- The Guardian
- Issue #2017
Presidents Ebrahim Raisi (C), Vladimir Putin (L) & Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 19th July, 2022. Photo: Xinhua
At the end of the meeting held in Tehran on 19th July, Presidents Vladimir Putin (Russia), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Türkiye), and Ebrahim Raisi (Iran) made a joint statement calling for preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and strengthening the fight against terrorism.
Their intensive diplomatic interactions were arranged against the backdrop of unfolding international and regional dynamics, and bear significance way beyond the three countries.
COORDINATION ON SYRIAN CRISIS
As guarantor countries of the Astana process, which was initiated in 2017 for peace in Syria, they differ in their positions on the Syrian conflict. Moscow and Tehran have been key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Ankara has backed the Syrian rebels.
The Tehran Summit followed Türkiye’s announcement of its intention to launch a new operation in the neighbouring country against Syria’s Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), raising alarm in Russia and Iran.
“Türkiye, Russia, and Iran already have differences on the Syrian issue, and these developments around Syria have further prompted them to communicate and coordinate,” said Wang Jin, a Middle East expert at Northwest University of China.
On Tuesday, Erdogan pledged to continue to fight “terrorist organisations,” and expected Russia and Iran to “side with Türkiye in this fight,” a move widely seen as an effort to press his case for a military offensive against the YPG, which Türkiye regards as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Yet, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against any “military attack on Syria.” He told Erdogan that such an operation against Syria “would be harmful to Syria, harmful to Türkiye, and harmful to the region, and it would be to the benefit of the terrorists.”
In their joint statement after their summit, the three presidents “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism,” and expressed their determination to “stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as threatening the national security of neighbouring countries,” appearing to include concerns of different sides.
ENERGY COOPERATION, ANTI-TERROR FIGHT
In his meeting with Putin, Khamenei urged the two countries to “increase mutual cooperation on a daily basis,” notably in the oil and gas sectors. Ahead of Putin’s visit to Tehran, the National Iranian Oil Company and Russia’s gas giant Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding, under which the latter is expected to make an investment worth roughly US$40 billion in Iran’s petroleum industry.
Iran is an important energy producer and exporter in the Middle East, and Türkiye is a gas and oil transit connecting the Middle East and Europe. Russia’s more interaction and consensus with the two countries could help it wrestle with the US-led West in the geopolitics of energy.
The fight against terrorism has also emerged as a hot topic when leaders charted the future of bilateral ties of their countries. For instance, Raisi told Putin that their “serious cooperation” in anti-terrorism has shown “their sincerity and determination in this field.”
The Iranian president also underscored the importance of maintaining security on Iran’s common border with Türkiye in his joint press conference with Erdoğan, saying terrorism must be fought against in all of its manifestations. “Cooperation between Tehran, Moscow and Ankara can help bring sustainable peace and lasting security to the region,” outlet Tehran Times commented.
PURSUIT OF STRATEGIC AUTONOMY
The visits of Putin and Erdoğan to Tehran came only days after US President Joe Biden’s first Middle East trip, during which Washington failed to rally support to counter what it called the “Iranian threat.” Both Biden’s regional tour which ended on a low note and Iran’s subsequent hosting of Russian and Turkish presidents have indicated that more countries tend to make decisions in their own interests, instead of following the agendas dictated by the US.
The United States is “not the big bully anymore, and therefore, cannot decide for the region’s future,” the Tehran Times said, adding that Biden’s visit to the region also showed that “the US interventionist policies in the region have backfired.”
Over the past decades, Iran’s strained ties with some regional countries left Washington sufficient room to pressure Tehran through sanctions and isolation policy, analysts said. But things are changing with more intra-regional visits recently. This explains why Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomatic advisor to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) president, said during Biden’s visit to the Middle East, that the UAE is working to send an ambassador to Tehran to thaw relations.
“It’s abundantly pleasing to witness one of the most vibrant and dynamic episodes of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy in spite of complicated global and regional conditions and the enemies’ failed efforts in spreading Iranophobia,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote.