There were several takeaways from the recent Quadrilateral Summit in Istanbul on finding a peaceful settlement to the war in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin convened with his counterparts from Turkey, Germany and France for a two-day summit last weekend in a convivial and constructive atmosphere.
The four powers signed a communique emphasizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. It was Putin who underscored the inviolability of the Syrian government of President Assad as the internationally recognized authority in the Arab country. The communique also endorsed the right of the Syrian nation to self-determination over the future political settlement, free from external interference.
These principles have been stated before in a previous UN Security Council Resolution 2254. But it seems more than ever that the sovereignty of Syria has been widely accepted. Recall that not too long ago, Turkey and France were calling for President Assad to stand down. That demand is no longer tenable, at least as far as the four powers attending the Istanbul summit are concerned.
The upholding of Syrian self-determination bears the stamp of Russia’s long-held position. The acceptance of this position by Turkey, Germany and France is testimony to the key role Russia has established in ending the nearly eight-year war in Syria and now creating the framework for a peace settlement in the war-torn country. This framework has been made possible after Russia’s principled military intervention nearly three years ago, which prevented Syria from being destroyed by Western-backed insurgents.
Ironically, the US and Britain have been pursuing a policy of trying to isolate and delegitimize Russia in international relations. Evidently from the Quadrilateral Summit in Istanbul, Moscow is far from isolated. It is perhaps the linchpin power for the reconstruction of Syria. Furthermore, Russia has emerged as having newfound leadership on the international stage owing to its laudable contribution in salvaging Syria from a foreign-sponsored war to destroy that nation.
Another important takeaway from the Istanbul gathering was that Washington and London were not invited to attend. That speaks to the diminished role these two powers have previously claimed in international politics. Their absence also speaks to the tacit recognition that the US and Britain have played a destructive part in fomenting the war in Syria. Turkey and France have also blood on their hands from likewise sponsoring regime change. But at least, it seems, the latter two have come significantly some way to accepting that the illicit objective of regime change is now a dead-end.
It remains to be seen if the Istanbul communique can be translated into substantive results in terms of Syria’s reconstruction. Both Germany and France appeared at this stage to not commit to providing financial aid. Berlin and Paris appeared to with-hold specific aid, perhaps as a way to maintain some kind of leverage over shaping a final political settlement. That contradicts the principle of recognizing Syrian self-determination. Nevertheless, if millions of Syrian refugees are to return to their country – a paramount issue for the European Union – then the EU must do much more in financing Syria’s reconstruction.
Another glaring contradiction in the communique is that the territorial integrity of Syria is being violated by the US and Turkey. Both have troops occupying swathes of Syrian territory in what is an egregious breach of international law. For a comprehensive peace settlement, all foreign powers present in Syria without a legal mandate must be withdrawn from the country.
While the US was excluded from the Quadrilateral Summit, Washington still exerts a baleful obstacle to peace.
Days after the Istanbul conference, the US envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, made provocative statements that do not bode well. He gloated in the fact that the US has some 2,000 troops in the country, and the State Department official warned that Washington would not permit a normalization of Syria by giving up occupied territory.
Jeffrey told media in Brussels.
“We are not going to put it [Syria] back together, and we are going to do everything we can, and that’s a lot, to ensure that nobody else does.”
It was a staggering admission of criminality by the US diplomat. It flies in the face of UN resolutions and the Istanbul communique endorsing Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
However, the threat of further destabilizing Syria by Washington illustrates that US objectives are in direct conflict with those of its European allies.
Germany, France and the rest of Europe need a peaceful reconstruction of Syria if they are to mitigate the refugee crisis that has destabilized the EU. A major political challenge to German Chancellor Angela Merkel from within her own country stems from the refugee crisis that the Syrian war has generated. The US policy of interminable interference in Syria is deeply incompatible with Europe’s interests for restoring peace to the Mediterranean and Middle East region.
Russia has helped decisively to win the war in Syria. But to win the peace, other powers must play a constructive role. Moscow has also decisively led the way to finding a peaceful settlement, from its diplomacy in previous summits in Astana and Sochi.
Far from being isolated or delegitimized, Russia has demonstrated an admirable leadership with regard to Syria. It is the US and Britain that are seen to be woefully isolated, and still pushing a destructive policy.
The Istanbul summit was a vindication of Russian policy. The coming together of Turkey, Germany and France with Russia is further vindication. What these four powers must do is insist on Washington abiding by international law and respecting Syria’s sovereignty. By getting illegal American forces out of Syria that would also go towards solving Turkey’s concerns over US-backed Kurdish separatists occupying territory in northeast Syria.
Washington is the one that is isolated over Syria, not Russia. The Europeans and Turkey are right to recognize Russia as a viable partner with regard to Syria’s future and their own security. By contrast, Washington as currently positioned, and for the foreseeable future, has nothing to offer except a dead-end.