MESOP BACKGROUNDER : Iranian-Russian Pressure on Turkey Over Syrian Crisis

12 August 2016 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will hold talks with Turkish officials in Ankara on Friday, joining a Russian initiative to change Turkey’s approach to the Syrian civil war.

Before travelling to Ankara, Zarif spoke by phone with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov “on issues of regional and international significance”, according to Iranian State media. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the discussion included “the issue of external support for [a] Syrian settlement.

On Tuesday, as part of a reconciliation following the Turkish downing of a Russian warplane last November, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

The following day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Foreign Ministry, military, and intelligence officials will travel to Russia on August 16 for discussions about the Syrian conflict.

Cavusoglu said the meeting in St Petersburg will be followed by talks between higher-level officials: “We are building a strong mechanism with Russia regarding Syria; we think alike on the ceasefire, humanitarian aid and a political solution.”

However, the Turkish diplomacy does not appear to be a capitulation to Russia’s essential support of the Assad regime, but an attempt to distance Moscow from unconditional backing. Reports indicate that Ankara has been providing weaponry and supplies which have helped a rebel offensive near Syria’s largest city Aleppo, breaking a pro-Assad siege and putting pressure on the Syrian military, Iranian units, and Hezbollah fighters.Foreign Minister Cavusoglu has stepped back on his statement of cooperation, telling reporters Thursday that “this does not mean that Turkish jets and Russian jets will fly together”. He also said Moscow should focus on the Islamic State, rather than Syrian rebels: “Since Daesh is our common enemy, it would be good if Russia would…target its operations against Daesh.”

Russian State media said on Thursday that Zarif’s talks in Turkey will be followed by a visit by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to Tehran on Monday.