Ignoring the US role in Syria and US continuing calls for a resolution to Syria conflict based on UN resolutions and the Geneva process, Turkey, Russia and Iran want to go ahead with a “constitutional committee.” In yet another blow to the Trump administration’s Syria policy, Washington’s own NATO ally, as well as its regional arch-rival Iran, are working together to discuss Syria without Washington’s say.
Russia is the broker as it has been in the Astana talks. Since 2015 Russia has slowly edged out the US and taken the reins in Syria. Even as the US and its SDF partners were able to consolidate control in the east, Russia has played a central role in discussions with other major players in the country. Russia and Turkey signed an Idlib agreement in September. Russia and Turkey also avoided any clash over Afrin in January. Russia has also been in discussions with Israel regarding sensitive issues in southern Syria and Russian observers and military police play a key role in the south and in Latakia. Russian S-400s and Russian airpower are importance as well as electronic warfare.
The announcement of the new committee “is nearly complete, with almost all members agreed on, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said Friday.” Comments were made at the Black Sea Economic Council (BSEC), when Çavuşoğlu said he had sat with Russian foreign minister Lavrov to discuss the region and the new constitution. The committee will likely meet next year. “Turkey, Russia and Iran will present the list of candidates for the Syrian Constitutional Committee to U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura next week, he added.”
Zarif, who was in Doha smiling and shaking hands at a Doha Forum event where he discussed the region with Qatari officials and others.
Zarif also spoke to Lavrov by telephone. “We have already an understanding that the list on which the government of Syria and opposition, with the assistance of Russia, Turkey and Iran worked is almost ready. We will be ready to present this list to U.N. Secretary-General Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on behalf of the Syrian parties at the beginning of next week,” Lavrov said, according to the report.
This comes as Turkey and US tensions rise regarding eastern Syria. Turkey is still threatening an operation to “cleanse” eastern Syria. The US envoy James Jeffrey has sought to placate Ankara while also urging refugees to return to eastern Syria.
Turkey appears to think it can sideline the US, whose policies with the SDF it objects to, while working with Russia and Iran. Turkey, for instance, has warmed relations with Russia, especially in the economic sphere. It also got exceptions for US sanctions on Iran. Turkey says it wants to help the 3 million Syrian refugees return, and it has been speaking with some of them about helping its operation in eastern Syria. It says it wants to make the area “livable” and return it to its “owners,” a reference to the Syrians in Turkey. But it is not clear if the constitutional committee is just a symbol of how much the US has been sidelined or if the US didn’t want to play a role. Jeffrey and the US have repeatedly said that the Geneva process is what should be looked to for the future of Syria.