Turkey is preparing to propose a new ceasefire deal between US-backed Syrian opposition groups and Russian-backed regime forces, the country’s presidential spokesman said on Tuesday.
Talks between Washington and Moscow on re-establishing the cessation of hostilities in Syria’s troubled Aleppo province fell through on Monday when the US suspended talks with Russia on efforts to revive the failed ceasefire.
Tensions between the two superpowers over Syria have peaked to a level not seen since the end of the Cold War, with the administrations of presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin squarely placing the blame on each other for the continued violence.
— Department of State (@StateDept) October 3, 2016
Over the weekend, Russia accused the US of protecting the Jabhat Fateh al Sham group, which was formerly called the Nusra Front and was known for its affiliations with Al Qaeda. Moscow also announced that it was scrapping a deal agreed with the US to dispose of surplus weapons-grade plutonium.
In turn, the US claimed that Russia’s targeting of moderate opposition groups in airstrikes was boldening terrorist groups operating on the Syrian battlefield.
But Turkey, which enjoys good, albeit complicated relations with both Washington and Moscow, is now seeking to play a mediatory role which could get the two sides talking again.
“We are making efforts to revive the ceasefire,” Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told the Haberturk television channel.
Kalin also said that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may hold a telephone conversation with President Obama on the issue in the near future, adding that a separate phone call between President Erdogan and President Putin may take place on Oct. 10.
Turkey has been mending its ties with Russia after the two countries agreed on a gradual rapprochement earlier this year. Moscow and Ankara have long been at odds over Russia’s support for Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, who the Turkish government has called to step down.
Last year, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane that crossed into Turkish airspace while conducting airstrikes on moderate Syrian opposition fighters. It was the worst incident recorded between Russia and a NATO member in over 50 years.
Turkey’s relationship with the US has also been strained as of late due to Washington’s support for the YPG - the Syrian affiliate of the PKK. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, but the US treats the YPG as a separate organisation key to the US-led coalition’s fight against DAESH.
While the US, Russia and Turkey have all launched their own military operations against DAESH in Syria, they are yet to agree on who fills the power vacuum that has come about in the country’s five-and-a-half-year civil war, which has according to some estimates killed almost half a million people.
Moderate opposition groups backed by the Turkish Army - namely the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - have cleared the Turkish border of DAESH presence since Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August, securing a strip of land between the towns of Azaz and Jarabulus where Turkey hopes to establish a safe haven for Syrian refugees.
The FSA is now looking to advance further south to the strategic town of Al Bab, DAESH’s last major base in the country. But Al Bab is equally important for the YPG, which seeks to capture it in order to form a land corridor linking Manbij to its stronghold in Afrin.
Al Bab is also a potential launching pad for an attack on Aleppo city, where up to 300,000 civilians residing in the city’s opposition-controlled eastern districts are living under a regime-enforced siege.
US “not abandoning pursuit of peace”
Despite the breaking off of talks between Washington and Moscow, the US remains dedicated to finding a solution to end the war, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
"I want to be clear that we are not giving up on the Syrian people and we are not abandoning the pursuit of peace," Kerry said in a speech in Brussels. "We will continue to pursue a meaningful, sustainable, enforceable cessation of hostilities throughout the country - and that includes the grounding of Syrian and Russian combat aircraft in designated areas."
Criticising Russia for its "irresponsible and profoundly ill-advised decision" to back the Assad regime, Kerry accused Russia of turning a “blind eye” to Assad's "deplorable" use of chlorine gas and barrel bombs on civilian populations.
Russia and the Assad regime "know exactly what they need to do" to create conditions for a resumption of peace talks, Kerry added.