The Afghanistan Summit in Tehran

The new agenda in Turkey’s foreign policy is obvious: Afghanistan. The AK Party government, which wasn’t able to establish the desired personal relationship with new resident of the White House, has looked for a remedy in collaboration with Americans on regional issues.

The window of opportunity appears to be to play an active role in Afghanistan, where NATO and U.S. forces have withdrawn. The AK Party has offered to take over the operation and security of the Kabul International Airport following NATO’s withdrawal.

The first step for this was organizing a summit with the goal of convincing all parties to support the Turkish armed forces in Afghanistan. The AK Party government rolled up its sleeves with the support of the U.S. Contact was made with the Taliban, which controls half of the country. The parties were invited for a summit in Turkey. However, the response was not in line with the expectations. The summit announced in April wasn’t postponed after the Taliban refused to attend.

But the AK Party went ahead with the plan to undertake security at the Kabul Airport after NATO’s withdrawal, despite the Taliban’s cold shoulder.


The funny thing is that Iran successfully convened the same Afghanistan meeting that Turkey tried to hold several times in April/ May but failed.

On behalf of the Afghan government, the former Vice President, Mohammad Younus Qanuni, and President Ashraf Gani’s advisor Abdul Salam Rahimi attended to the meeting hosted by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of Taliban’s Doha office, participated in the meeting.

A final agreement wasn’t reached at the meeting. But even American government spokespeople described the meeting as a success, simply because it took place. The U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said the meeting was “a constructive step in the right direction”.

Iran, which shares more than 500 kilometer of border with Afghanistan and hosts around 3.5 million Afghans, has repeatedly said publicly that it is pleased with the U.S. and NATO withdrawal. However, it’s hard to say if they think the same in private. The biggest source of concern for the Tehran administration is the possibility of Afghanistan spiraling into chaos again. In fact, this summit was a step to prevent such chaos. In some ways, Washington and Tehran stand side by side in the case of Afghanistan, although neither side wants to openly acknowledge that. Both countries are concerned about the possibility of a new civil war. Here, Ankara, which couldn’t even convince Taliban to come to Turkey for a meeting, should think about how it can convince the Taliban of a new military mission in Kabul.


While the AK Party tries to adapt its foreign policy to the new environment after Biden entered the international arena, Afghanistan isn’t the only big problem it faces. The risk of getting stuck in Syria is increasing day by day.

Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentyev’s recent statement is the smoking gun. The Russian envoy expressed with diplomatic language at a press conference he held that it’s time for Turkey to withdraw its troops from Syria. “We hope that the presence of Turkish forces in Northwest Syria is temporary, and they will leave as the situation stabilizes soon,” he said.


Lavrentyev made an unexpected salvo, again using diplomatic language, regarding the so-called moderate opposition Turkey attempted to form in the north of Syria, notably Idlib. “Painting terrorists white, renaming them as moderate opposition, is unacceptable,” he said.


Going further and touching on the transnational water issue between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, Lavrentyev said “they are in talks with Turkish officials” over dams on the Euphrates river. Thus, Moscow has become a party to the transnational water issue for the first time. Recognizing the Russians as a legitimate party to this issue would be a critical diplomatic mistake for Ankara.

Understandably, the AK Party, which lets NATO enter the Black Sea as often as it wants to restore relations with the Biden administration and walks arm-in-arm with Ukraine, is raising eyebrows in Moscow. The Kremlin is about to use its Syria trump card in response to the plan to surround Russia from the south in the Black Sea which Ankara has also enthusiastically joined. Lavrentyev’s statements should be read as the first diplomatic warning from the Moscow administration to Turkey. In fact, it’s possible to see its projection in the field in Syria: fighting has started in pockets of Idlib, which had been quiet for several months. The Assad regime is just waiting for a signal from Moscow to proceed in Idlib. Lavrentyev’s statements show that Putin isn’t that far from giving that signal. If the Turkey’s policies aren’t reviewed immediately, it’s not hard to imagine at all that very hot days await it in both Afghanistan and Syria…

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