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A chance for peace in Syria (The Hindu.)

The coming together of Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis is a welcome development. That they decided to go ahead with Tuesday’s Moscow summit despite the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, the previous day, demonstrates their commitment to stay the course, something that was missing in previous efforts. The summit also marks a shift in Russia’s approach, which initially involved negotiations with the United States about possible diplomatic options for Syria. Washington has been kept out of both the deliberations on the Aleppo evacuations and the Moscow conference. The last time Russia and the U.S. reached an agreement, in September 2016, there had been great hope that they could mentor a sustainable ceasefire. But within days of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announcing the deal, the American-led coalition killed dozens of Syrian soldiers. Though the U.S. later “regretted” the strike, the peace process had been hit. The wider bilateral tensions between Moscow and Washington were also an impediment to finding a breakthrough in Syria.

The current initiative appears to be more promising. Russia and Iran have direct leverage over the regime in Syria, while Turkey still helps several militant groups. Besides money and arms, the militants need Turkey’s help for any communication with the other side. And there is a reason for Turkey coming forward for talks. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have realised that his anti-regime Syria policy has backfired. Turkey faces severe security challenges, from both Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants. If Syria remains at war and the instability spawns more radical militia groups, it could worsen Turkey’s security problems, while Kurds on the Syrian side could grow in strength. Russia, on the other side, has pursued a ‘war and talk’ approach since its intervention — it will continue to defend the regime militarily, while looking for avenues to deal with other stakeholders. The recent improvement in relations between Ankara and Moscow, which had hit a low after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft last year, has also helped get the peace process going. But this convergence of interest for both sides in stabilising Syria doesn’t mean that peace is within reach. Turkey is only one of the countries backing the rebels. The others include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, all allies of the U.S. The Saudis were instrumental in ending the civil war in Lebanon in 1989. Like Lebanon, Syria too is a regional problem that needs a regional solution. For this, Arab stakeholders may have to give up their ‘Assad-must-go’ precondition and join the peace process, as Turkey did.

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