Outcome of Istanbul summit shows Assad has won - scholar

Several things can be learned from last weekend’s summit on Syria in Istanbul, but the main lesson is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won the seven-year conflict, said former diplomat and scholar Marc Pierini in an article for the Carnegie Middle East Center.

The October 27, attended by the leaders of Turkey, Germany, Russia and France, resulted in only mild commitments, yet the final statement’s emphasis on Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity may come to be seen as a confirmation of Assad’s victory, Pierini said.

“Yet, an Assad victory also means a victory for Russia and Iran,” he added. “Russia now has an air base near Lattakia that will be there for decades. Iran, although not present in Istanbul, has helped Assad prevail and will keep its crucial connection to Hezbollah through Syria, and most probably its rocket and drone production facilities for Hezbollah.”

The participation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in a summit held in Istanbul also provided a significant image boost for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the second lesson cited by Pierini.

Erdoğan was unable, however, to achieve all his goals at the summit, as the other participants did not agree to wording defining a main enemy of Turkey, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as terrorists.

“The next question is whether Ankara will undertake military operations east of the Euphrates River and go all the way to the Iraqi border on the Tigris River,” said Pierini.

“As things go in terms of Erdoğan’s political habits—he generally does what he has announced—the Turkish army has already launched attacks against the YPG around and east of Kobanî. This will create new problems with Washington and Paris, possibly leading to direct military clashes,” the scholar said.

Meanwhile, Pierini said, U.S. President Donald Trump’s absence highlighted that the United States at this stage has been largely marginalised and is not playing an active role in the outcome of the conflict.

And while the attendance of Merkel and Macron shows that the two major European powers are “back in the game” in Syria, for Pierini their presence diminished the role of the European Union as an actor in crucial issues.

“This is a deeply held conviction in both Berlin and Paris and it has been so since the conceptual phase of the Lisbon Treaty. In this framework, the EU dimension only really comes in at a technical level, be it in humanitarian actions, reconstruction funding, or trade sanctions when needed,” Pierini said.