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29 Dec, 2016 15:38

‘Syria ceasefire: New realities on ground before Trump takes office’

‘Syria ceasefire: New realities on ground before Trump takes office’

A new Syrian ceasefire organized between Moscow and Ankara is the beginning of a turnaround by the Turks and a setback for American diplomacy, experts told RT.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Thursday an agreement has been reached on a ceasefire in Syria and the start of peace talks. The truce will come into force at 00.00 December 30.

“Great work has been done in cooperation with our partners from Turkey. We know that only recently there was a trilateral meeting in Moscow of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, where all of the nations made obligations not only to control but also to act as guarantors of the peace process in Syria,” Putin said.

The truce will include seven major opposition groups with over 60,000 opposition fighters across Syria.

Moscow also hopes US President-elect Donald Trump's administration will join other countries in their efforts to settle the Syrian crisis, said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

RT asked analysts how big a breakthrough this deal is.

There are several important points regarding the agreement, says Kevork Almassian, academic, political analyst on Syria.

“First of all, there is a gradual change in the Turkish rhetoric regarding Syria. It was obviously in Aleppo; the Turks didn’t intervene directly in foiling the liberation of Aleppo from the Al-Nusra Front and other Islamist militants,” he told RT.

“The second point is the sidelining of the US from these talks in order to create new political realities before President-elect Donald Trump comes to power. When he comes to power, there will be new realities on the ground, a new ceasefire and new agreements between the Syrian government and other opposition groups.”

“The third important factor is sidelining Saudi Arabia at the moment. Saudi Arabia has enormous influence on the ground on the Salafi and jihadi groups in Syria. By making an agreement between Russia, Turkey, and Iran – these countries are pushing Saudi Arabia into the corner and putting it in front of the international community, in front of the big challenge: either except the peace process or continue your aggressive policies toward Syria,” said Almassian.

The reaction of President- elect Donald Trump and the Saudis regarding the deal is yet to be seen, he said.

In the analyst’s view, halting the regime change projects in the Middle East will be a top priority for the new administration in Washington since most of them have been counterproductive and have only created a vacuum that will be filled by jihadists.

If Trump is committed to his promises, “he will stop supporting these jihadi groups in Syria, as his predecessor did, President Obama,” and that would mean that the Russians and the Americans can cooperate in defeating ISIS, Almassian said.

Yasar Yakis, a former Foreign Minister of Turkey, suggests the US was not actually sidelined or excluded from the recent Syria peace talks.

“There are several factors, which may not have allowed the US to be in the picture in Astana especially and before that in Moscow. It is the fact that the action or the operation was to evacuate eastern Aleppo, [where] America didn’t have any major role to play … Whether America is there or not didn’t matter much – this is one thing,” he said.

“Secondly, because of the changing of power in the US we do not know what type of policy Mr. Trump is going to implement in Syria. So in this transition period the American absence does not pose any problem, because even if they were present, they wouldn’t be able to contribute because they wouldn’t know what the Trump administration would do when they are sworn in. I think in the future if there is a role to be played by the US, the cooperation with the US may continue. But for this particular question its absence is not a missing component in my opinion,” Yakis told RT.

‘Turkey makes U-turn on Syrian future’

Since the start of the war in Syria, Turkey and Russia have taken opposing views on Assad – the Turkish government always wanted him gone. However, we might now be seeing “the beginning of the turnaround on the Turkish part,” says political scientist and author Kaveh Afrasiabi.

The Turkish government, which has been burdened by some three million refugees and all the rest, is quite aware of the need to reset its Syria policy on a constructive path. That requires a new engagement with the government of President Assad, who is a key actor in the future political process. In order to maintain the equations, Turkey must reset its Syria policy and engage with the present government in Syria, because even if one of the political solutions is for federalism, you require a strong central government and the maintenance of the government institutions just as the resolution 2254 adopted last December called for,” he told RT.

‘Severe setback for US diplomacy’

With Russia and Turkey working together on Syria, America’s role has definitely diminished, according to John Graham, a former US diplomat.

“The actors now who are to be the key players are Russia, Turkey, and Iran. The US, I am sure, will not be completely cut out…by and large the power is out of the American hands, and into the parties now organizing this ceasefire,” he said.

“All this started in [2012], when President Obama refused to reinforce his so-called red line – he said that if the Syrians use chemical weapons that America would use military force against them. But when the chemical weapons were used, the US government backed down. And from that moment on, the American position in Syria was fatally weakened. And what we’re seeing now is the result of that fatal weakness,” Graham told RT.

Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the US-led coalition of supporting terrorist groups in Syria, including Islamic State.

According to political commentator John Wight, it’s a remarkable rift developing between the US and Turkey, “given how close they were and how much importance the US had placed in its alliance with Turkey due to its geopolitical and strategic location in the region.”

“And now there has been a complete 180 turnaround. I think it comes from the failed coup that took place in Turkey not too long ago. The Turkish government obviously has suspicions of the US knowledge [of] if not involvement in that coup. And those suspicions have never been alleviated or arrested by anything that the Obama administration has said or done since then. Certainly this a is a remarkable turnaround, and it marks again another failure in Obama’s foreign policy toward the Middle East to lose a key NATO ally in the region and the way that it has - it is very humiliating in fact – this will tarnish his legacy going forward,” Wight said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.