Feeling somewhat buoyant after his substantial gamble backing Qatar in the dispute in the Gulf and realising that many other local and regional powers have done the same, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a bold step and stated that Saudi Arabia and the United States should join the Astana Peace Process.
This can be interpreted in several ways.
1. Watering Down The Existing Astana Memorandum
Currently, the Astana memorandum provides for the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria that will be monitored by the three Astana parties (Russia, Iran, Turkey) with the consent and cooperation of the Syrian government.
Russia and Iran support the legitimate government in Syria while Turkey still supports those trying to overthrow it.
Saudi Arabia remains totally isolated from the Syrian government and under Barack Obama, the US was a champion of violent regime change for Damascus. The Trump administration seems to have backed down on such calls, but the American position still remains deeply inconsistent and fluid.
At present Turkey is outnumbered in Astana. It is the only one of three parties which does not fully support the legitimate Syrian government.
If both the US and Saudi were involved, it would be a matter of three against two, in respect of opposition to the legitimate Syrian government.
Knowing that Turkey can no longer unilaterally win a war against Syria, this could be Erdogan’s last chance at achieving a long held goal.
2. A Personal Attempt To Enhance Prestige
Now that Turkey has signed up to the Astana process, it is unlikely to walk out. Erdogan’s statements do not indicate that he is planning on doing so.
His statements do indicate that Turkey wants credit for broadening the Astana peace process.
On the surface Turkey is the right country to do this. Turkey has become closer to Russia in terms of trade and geo-political cooperation over the last two years and Erdogan enthusiastically participated in China’s recent One Belt–One Road Forum which the US boycotted in all but name.
At the same time Turkey is a member of NATO and an historic US ally in spite of poor relations with the Obama White House and seemingly also with that of Donald Trump.
Turkey may simply be looking after its own prestige and interests,hoping to be able to say that only Turkey could bring the US and the western allied Saudi Arabia to a table with Iran.
Erdogan after all did say quite correctly that the problems in Syria and Iraq could not be addressed without the participation of Iran, a country that the US and Saudi Arabia continue to wage a cold war against.
If Erdogan was able to get the US and Saudi Arabia to a table that included Iran, it would in actual fact be something of an achievement, even if the results could work against Iran’s regional priorities.
3. Erdogan Shaming the US and Saudi Arabia
This hypothesis runs directly contrary to the one in section 2. According to this analysis, Erdogan knowing that in the battle for multi-polar supremacy, he is now on the side of Iran, Russia and China rather than that of the United States, Europe and the Gulf states, he wants to make Saudi and the United States feel that they have no other choice but to join a Peace process dominated by members of the wider global ‘east’.
This could well be Erdogan’s way of attaining a kind of ‘soft vengeance’ against Saudi and the United States at a time when Turkey has had an increasingly poor relationship with Washington and has now taking Qatar’s side in a dispute led by Saudi Arabia.
4. An Anti-Kurdish Coalition
Of the current Astana group, Russia is the only country that has normal relations with the Kurds in Syria. Iran remains highly sceptical of Kurdish forces because of its own problem with Kurdish separatists while Turkey is a sworn enemy of the Kurds.
Under Donald Trump, the US has become increasingly pro-Kurdish and now that Turkey has sided with Qatar in the current Gulf crisis, many in Saudi have decided to support Kurdish forces in a clear move to anger Turkey or perhaps even punish Turkey should the Saudi’s make good on their threats of supporting a traditional Turkish adversary.
In drawing the US and Saudi into Astana, perhaps Erdogan thinks he can avoid a unilaterally pro-Kurdish position from being exercised by either nation. However, this is a tall order, though Erdogan may feel it’s the last chance to break support for the Kurds at a time when a Kurdish state on Turkey’s borders is looking increasingly likely due to Iraqi Kurds unilaterally holding a referendum on independence set for September, something both Iraq and Turkey oppose for different reasons.