Turkish Foreign Ministry on September 1 announced that Minister Hakan Fidan will pay a visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran on September 3 upon the invitation of Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran.
“During the visits Minister Fidan will hold high-level meetings in Tehran. The visit will render the opportunity to discuss the possibilities for further advancing our bilateral cooperation in all fields with Iran and to exchange views on current regional and international developments,” the statement from the Ministry read.
Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was in Moscow on August 31 and September 1. Apart from the meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, he also meet Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. The primary aspect of the meeting was announced as the grain deal, but no concrete results have yet been achieved for Russia’s return to the deal. In fact, Shoigu said that they would continue with the deal only if their demands were met.
Meetings of Fidan and Syria angle
However, Fidan’s contacts in Moscow revived a ground for a solution between the two countries ahead of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Sochi on September 4, which could also affect Russia’s return to the grain deal.
This ground was Syria. It is no secret that Moscow has been urging Ankara to re-establish relations with Damascus for some time. Syria has been the subject of most of the Erdogan-Putin meetings over the last few years.
After winning the elections, President Erdoğan said that he was not against talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adding that “his approach is important”. Assad responded that he would not meet with Erdoğan as long as there were Turkish troops on Syrian soil.
Let us first elaborate on the situation in the grain deal, which has attracted the world’s attention, and then move on to the Syria-PKK issue and Fidan’s trip to Iran, which closely concern the Turkish public opinion.
Türkiye has reservations about all three scenarios
The grain issue is no longer just about grain transportation, nor is it linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
For example, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will block the final declaration of G20 summit, to be held next week in New Delhi, unless it reflects Moscow’s position on Ukraine and other crises, leaving participants to issue a non-binding or partial communique.
“There will be no general declaration on behalf of all members if our position is not reflected,” Lavrov told students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on September 1, on the occasion of International Peace Day.
Following Russia’s suspension of the grain deal on July 17 due to the failure to fulfill UN promises to facilitate exports, three scenarios were put forward, not two.
- To give up trying to persuade Russia and ship Ukrainian wheat to Europe via the Danube through the territorial waters of Black Sea coastal (and NATO member) Romania,
- To deliver Ukrainian wheat to the Bosporus Strait through the coasts of Romania, Bulgaria and Türkiye, without entering the international waters of the Black Sea, again without any agreement with Russia,
- Transporting Russian wheat, with Qatar’s financial aid, to Türkiye, processing it into flour and shipping it to the African countries.
Türkiye has reservations about all three scenarios, which are likely to be the backdrop for the Erdogan-Putin meeting. The first two have security risks in themselves and they will not help de-escalate tensions because they exclude Russia. The third could lead to new international and financial tensions and excludes Ukraine.
New proposal from the UN
Ankara is in favor of revitalizing the original agreement, while agreeing with criticism that UN’s promises to Russia have not been kept. Russia’s complaint is mainly twofold. The exclusion of SWIFT-like payment systems for the sale of grain and fertilizer (mainly controlled by the US) from the sanctions imposed on Russia, and the provision of insurance facilities for Russian carriers.
The UN is in the process of formally presenting proposals on both of these issues, which diplomatic sources say will provide Russia with certain benefits.
Therefore, diplomatic sources expect only a miracle solution on the grain deal from the Erdogan-Putin meeting, provided that both leaders take surprise steps.
These surprise steps could be on the Black Sea or the Mediterranean or they could be on Ukraine or Syria.
Let us now return to Syria, PKK and Fidan’s visit to Tehran.
Fidan to go Tehran ahead of Erdoğan-Putin meeting
While Fidan was meeting with Shoigu, Lavrov gave a special importance to the Türkiye-Syria issue in his speech to Moscow University students.
He emphasized that the 1998 Adana Agreement between Türkiye and Syria allowed Türkiye to operate in Syrian territory against the terrorist threat, and that “radical Kurdish organizations” were already supported by the US. The agreement was signed after the Turkish President of the time Suleyman Demirel threatened Syria with war and Hafez al-Assad expelled PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who was captured in February 1999.
Syria is probably at the center of the developments that led Foreign Minister Fidan to Tehran ahead of the Erdoğan-Putin meeting.
The revival of the Astana process between Türkiye, Russia and Iran is important for Türkiye both to prevent the threat emanating from Syrian territory and to normalize relations with Syria.
It is noteworthy that Lavrov brought up Adana in this way because the US officially recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization but cooperates with its extensions in Syria, while Russia does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization and in fact maintains contact with it.
Let us recall that after Fidan’s visit to Kiev on August 25 for the grain deal and before his visit to Moscow, a group of US Congressmen entered and exited Syrian territory through Türkiye on August 28 – after six years – into the area controlled by the Turkish Armed Forces.
In Hurriyet newspaper, journalist Sedat Ergin listed Türkiye’s recent steps towards rapprochement with the United States. Among them was the joint exercise of the USS Gerald Ford, the world’s largest aircraft carrier, with the Turkish Navy’s flagship TCG Anadolu. The American ship’s visit to the port of Antalya was also highlighted by the invitation of Selçuk Bayraktar, who gained international influence with his TB-2 UCAVs sold to Ukraine, by US Ambassador Jeff Flake.
The other side of the coin
However, at the same time, another US aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean, the USS Roosevelt, was visiting the Greek Cypriot port of Larnaca, where Bob Menendez, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was attacking Türkiye in harsh terms.
When it comes to rapprochement with the US, it comes back to the sale of F-16s and the PKK presence in Syria; there is no development there yet.
Russia is trying to exploit that gap.
Russian sources report that the Russian Defense Minister, in his meeting with Fidan, praised his intelligence background as the head of the National Intelligence Organization.
It is useful to be careful. Let’s see what will happen after the Erdoğan-Putin stops in Tehran and Sochi.