Astana Conference On Syria: A Different Meeting – OpEd

By Ja’far Haghpanah

The international meeting held for two days in Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, is very important for the following reasons, because it aims to achieve a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria, which has lasted for almost six years.

First of all, at a time that an international will and solution to put an end to such crises as that of Syria are lacking, regional initiatives stand a high chance of effectiveness provided that they are sufficiently supported by big powers. According to theories of regional studies, under present conditions and following the Cold War, various regions of the world have more room to act independent of international system. As a result, regional powers are sometimes even more capable than global powers in establishing security and playing negative or positive roles through strengthening or undermining those security arrangements, which are at odds with their interests. We see that at the present time and with regard to crisis management in Syria, Iran and Turkey, as two regional powers, enjoy such a position. The influence of these two governments, along with cooperation from Russia as a global power, has had such effects as reduction of the crisis in the Arab country, management of the war in eastern part of the city of Aleppo, and opening a way for people to leave the eastern part of this city followed by establishment of a nationwide fragile, though more or less sustainable, ceasefire for the first time in the country. Therefore, continuation of efforts aimed at finding a diplomatic way out of this major catastrophe cannot be possible unless in this way.

Secondly, despite its serious root causes and various domestic aspects, the crisis in Syria is by nature a regional and international phenomenon and this issue makes maximum cooperation from all international actors and organizations inevitable. Naturally, the interests that all governments have in Syria crisis are not the same and it is basically the conflict among their interests, which has caused prolongation of this civil war. The spread of crisis under present circumstances has created a situation in which a high number of actors, though with different interests, have reached the conclusion to cooperate in order to repel common threats. Spread of terrorism, sectarianism and immigration have caused governments like Turkey to make a serious change in their foreign policy toward Syria. Continuation of this trend and taking revisionist steps by more actors can create more hope for the management of Syria crisis. In the meantime, it seems that European governments, which already feel threatened more than before by extremism, mass immigration and terrorism, are now more ready to join the peace making process in Syria. Therefore, efforts made by the Islamic Republic of Iran can be focused on convincing the European Union to cooperate and interact with this process more than before.

Thirdly, the new administration in the United States is more willing and motivated compared to its predecessor to intervene in Syria crisis. The political and security team set up by new US President Donald Trump is more aware of and skillful with regard to issues in the Middle East, and despite certain differences between Trump and his defense secretary, James Mattis, this team is on the whole expected to give a bigger impetus to Washington’s policy in the Middle East. This is true, especially taking into account that throughout his election campaigning, Trump put the highest stress on the need to fight Daesh (which he described as Islamic terrorism). At the same time, the necessary condition for involvement of any political actor, including the United States, in the management of Syria crisis is to accept the status of the incumbent government in Damascus and to avoid of repetition of wrong policies of the past, which mainly led to further strengthening of terrorist groups. Naturally, under conditions when new officials at the White House are in a state of transition before taking official office, involvement of the United States in regional and international initiatives, including international talks in Astana, cannot be very effective. This is why the United States has sent no diplomatic team to these talks and its presence in Kazakhstan’s Syria talks is limited to participation of US ambassador to Astana as observer. As a result, it is clear that this presence is merely aimed at keeping abreast of this affair and the content of negotiations, and will be devoid of any serious effect. However, the role of the United States is expected to increase in the future through heightened interaction and bargaining with Russia. At the same time, both officials in Washington and Moscow are aware that when it comes to operations in the field, they cannot ignore the role played by such effective regional actors as the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Fourthly, instead of a great number of countries, which had taken part in Geneva 1 and 2 conferences on Syria in the past and failed to achieve any results, this time only a few number of effective actors have come together in Astana. This change is indicative of a major development in management of Syria crisis. The importance of each actor is now clear and we must expect that through cooperation of these governments and addition of a few other regional and international actors, management of Syria crisis will enter a new phase of effectiveness in order to reduce intensity of the crisis.

Iran Review

Iran Review

Iran Review is a Tehran-based site that is independent, non-governmental and non-partisan and representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran’s political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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