While in Sochi, Russia for trilateral talks between Russia, Iran, and Turkey over the future of Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has taken to Twitter for some serious trolling. As the first day of the summit concluded - a day preceded by a rare 4-hour visit to Russia by Syrian President Bashar Assad who met with Putin on Monday - Zarif stated, "No need for empty words or gimmicks - including glowing orbs - when you're actually working for peace and against terror."
The Iranian FM was of course referring to the unforgettable photo op which lit up the internet from Trump's inaugural visit to Saudi Arabia last May wherein Trump along with Saudi King Salman and Egypt's Sisi laid their hands on a strange glowing orb upon the opening of something called the "Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology" (no one knows what the center has accomplished since then).
In the lead up to the summit, Zarif explained that the Iranian delegation headed by President Rouhani would be "working with Turkish & Russian counterparts to build on ceasefire we achieved in Syria & preparing for inclusive dialog among Syrians. Irony is KSA accuses Iran of destabilization, while itself fuels terrorists, wages war on Yemen, blockades Qatar & foments crisis in Lebanon."
And the other irony is that along with the continuing war of words between the Iranians and Saudis, parallel summits are happening at the same time over Syria. On Wednesday a Syrian opposition conference kicked off in Riyadh which aims to unite fragmented opposition groups ahead of next week's UN-backed Syria talks in Geneva next week.
But statements from Sochi appeared more triumphant, with a many analysts and media pundits interpreting the ongoing summit between presidents Putin, Erdogan, and Rouhani, as a victory lap of sorts which will involve discussion of the fate of post-war Syria, driven by the victorious Russians and Iranians with reluctant Erdogan in tow, perhaps clawing for the geopolitical scraps.
And the Russian embassy in the UK decided to take the opportunity to rub it in, with the following tweet:
Putin's own words during his brief surprise meeting with Assad on Monday, however, were more restrained: "We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists," he said. "But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up."
Assad responded in comments to Russian state television after the meeting: "At this stage, especially after we achieved victory over terrorists, it is in our interests to move forward with the political process." And during Tuesday's hour plus phone call between Trump and Putin, the Russian president reportedly assured Trump that the “Syrian leader confirmed adherence to the political process, to run a constitutional reform” and presidential and parliamentary elections.
On Wednesday, upon the opening of the trilateral Sochi summit, Putin confidently announced that, "Russia, Iran and Turkey have prevented a break-up of Syria, kept it from being overrun by international terrorists and warded off a humanitarian catastrophe." And contrary to some speculation that Russia may eventually accept the breakup of Syria into different spheres of influence, Putin expressed hope that decisions reached at the summit would help "strengthen the territorial integrity of Syria."
He further reiterated commitment to constitutional reform in Syria and compromise among world powers currently operating there: “The Syrian people will have to determine their own future and agree on the principles of their own statehood. It is obvious that the process of reform will not be easy and will require compromises and concessions from all participants, including of course the government of Syria” Putin said Wednesday.
The controversial topic of reconstruction in Syria will also be under consideration at the summit, as Putin urged Turkey and Iran to join in the efforts. “Given the colossal scale of the destruction it would be possible to think together about the development of a comprehensive program for Syria,” he said.
In the past half-year Turkey has come under the Russian orbit in Syria after Erdogan's early aggressive pursuit of regime change backfired which left him fighting for his political future and increasingly at odds with the United States and NATO. Turkey's very presence at the summit is hugely significant, while at the same time both the US and EU have been sidelined.
The summit further aims to lay the groundwork for a Syrian national dialogue congress due to be hosted by Russia in December. It is possible that an entirely new constitution, including terms of future presidential elections (likely to include Assad running), will be framed during that future meeting involving members of the political opposition.
But it's concerning the terms of this December Russian-sponsored meeting that Erdogan will seek to assert himself at Sochi: he is insisting that Syrian Kurds be excluded from the negotiating table on the grounds that they have links to the PKK and other Kurdish movements that Turkey labels as terrorists. However, it is unlikely that a lasting political settlement for Syria can be negotiated and successfully held without Syrian Kurdish input.
So it looks like things are moving forward concerning political settlement and future stability for Syria, entirely without direct US or European involvement or input.