Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, formally announced the much-heralded Russian-Turkish-Iranian peace plan for Syria on Wednesday, with Russia claiming it has support from the United Nations. However, Turkey’s insistence that dictator Bashar Assad cannot be part of Syria’s long-term future may not sit well with Moscow.
“Turkish minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments appeared to signal tentative progress in talks aimed at reaching a truce. While the insistence on Assad’s departure could complicate negotiations with his biggest backer, Russia, another Turkish official did not rule out a transitional role for the Syrian president,” Reuters reports.
“There are two texts ready on a solution in Syria. One is about a political resolution and the other is about a ceasefire. They can be implemented any time,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference in Ankara.
“The whole world knows it is not possible for there to be a political transition with Assad, and we also all know that it is impossible for these people to unite around Assad,” he added.
The Kremlin was conspicuously silent after Cavusoglu’s remarks, although the Foreign Ministry did declare that UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and expressed support for the Russo-Turkish-Iranian peace talks.
The UK Guardian cites Cavusoglu’s commitment to put a general ceasefire into effect in Syria by midnight on Wednesday. However, there was “no sign that the mainstream Syrian opposition groups had agreed to the ceasefire, and it appears likely there will be disagreement about the territory to be covered by any ceasefire.”
A senior opposition official said his group had not yet seen a copy of the ceasefire agreement. The Russian Foreign Ministry claims to have consulted with the opposition, but another rebel group said it had no knowledge of such consultations.
As usual, the latest ceasefire excludes terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. The Guardian reports that Turkey also wants to exclude the Kurdish YPG militia from peace talks although the United States regards the YPG as a vital ally in ground combat against the Islamic State.
Sources familiar with Russia’s Syrian strategy say Moscow sees the war-torn nation becoming partitioned into a looser federation surrounding a less-powerful government in Damascus, which Bashar Assad would still preside over for several years to come. Assad would then resign and allow another candidate from his Alawite sect of Shia Islam to take his place in the next election. According to these sources, Iran has not yet agreed to support this slow and graceful ouster of Assad.
The United States is pointedly not involved in these talks, meaning success would establish Russia, Turkey, and Iran as the new power players in the Middle East, with an especially strong boost for Russia’s status as a global power. The Russian strategy outlined to Reuters involves getting the ceasefire in place and permanent peace talks under way, then invite the Gulf Arab states into the discussion, then the U.S. and Europe.