How Russia, Turkey excluded Iran from Sochi deal on Syria’s Idlib

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The outcomes of Sochi summit on September 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, regarding Syria’s Idlib and creating a demilitarized zone instead of launching a military offensive, has taken Iran by surprise, destroying all hopes it built during an earlier summit held in Tehran with the participation of both Moscow and Ankara.

The Iranian government reluctantly declared its support for the Sochi deal despite its previous insistence on inciting the completion of military operations in Idlib and supporting the forces of the Syrian regime, the Revolutionary Guards and its militias.

The trilateral summit between Iran, Russia and Turkey in Tehran on September 7 saw coordination and harmonization of positions between Hassan Rouhani and Vladimir Putin on the implementation of military operations against armed groups in Idlib.

While Erdogan opposed any attack against Idlib, saying that Turkey could move the groups that Russia and Iran oppose from the areas that it controls so that Idlib will be under the control of “moderate forces”, the Iranian media applauded the Tehran summit and said it was time for Iran and Russia to restore Idlib and hand it over to Bashar al-Assad regime, vowing to end what it described, the Turkish arrogance.

But 10 days after the Tehran summit, the Sochi summit excluded Iran and dealt a blow to its hopes, especially that Putin openly declared his refusal to launch a military offensive in Idlib and his deal with Erdogan to establish a demilitarized zone between the forces of the Syrian regime and the opposition groups at a depth of 15 to 25 km where they will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces who will conduct patrols in this region.

While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the Sochi deal as “responsible diplomacy,” Iranian media outlets of the regime and analysts close to the authority attacked the deal and viewed it as marginalizing Iran’s role in Syria.

In an interview with the Iranian Diplomacy website, Qasem Moheb Ali, a diplomat and former director of the Middle East Department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that Tehran’s competitors, in their analysis of the recent economic and social situation in Iran, expected to gain concessions from Tehran, especially with the re-imposing of harsh US sanctions in November.

He believed that Russia and Turkey - without naming them - want to pressure Iran to give up its role in Syria in exchange for standing up to American pressure.

Moheb Ali implicitly admitted that Iran’s policy in Syria failed, saying: “Iran’s policy of keeping Bashar al-Assad and his likes and maintaining power in the hands of the Alawites and other allies will not get anywhere, because the international community, especially the Arab countries in the region and even the Syrian community, do not accept this equation.”

“This is the impasse of Iran, as the efforts of the international community are now focused on the total elimination of Iran’s influence in the Middle East,” he said.

For his part, Iranian diplomat and political analyst Ali Khorram considered Iran’s position to be weak in regional equations.

“The government must be vigilant in making decisions so as not to be surprised by future changes,” he said in an interview with “Intikhab” or Election website which is close to the Iranian government.

“The question now at the international level is how, 10 days after the Tehran summit, only two of the three countries sit and reach a deal which is completely the opposite of Tehran summit,” he said.

While reformist figures critical of Iran’s intervention in Syria said that although the regime spent billions in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad and the tens of thousands of Revolutionary Guards and militia casualties, Russia still uses Iranian forces as mere infantry for Russian troops.

This analysis reinforces Russia’s failure to take a stand on continued Israeli attacks on Iranian bases and forces in Syria.

They also saw that Russia wanted through those pressures to force Iran to withdraw from Syria, which was confirmed by the United States National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Observers believe that the Sochi deal between Putin and Erdogan to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib, is a new political blow to the Iranian regime and represents a “collapse of the strategic depth of the regime.”