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Will Iran, Turkey jointly confront US influence east of the Euphrates?

Iran and Turkey are gearing their policies in Syria toward jointly tackling the current status quo in northeastern Syria, where US-backed forces constitute a common threat to both Turkish and Iranian interests.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan leave after a news conference in Tehran, Iran September 7, 2018. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS - RC14A5A16440
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Turkey is facing a new conundrum in Syria. While its main concern is the areas held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), due to the latter’s links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey has had to prioritize Idlib because of the looming attack on the province, which could jeopardize Ankara's presence in northern Syria.

Turkey's stated national security-related reasons for Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017 were reasonable, but its present focus on Idlib is a hard sell — especially to its Iranian and Russian partners on the Astana track. Lacking regional support and necessary leverage in Syria to pursue its objectives both in Idlib and in relation to the SDF, Turkey will likely be enmeshed in the former, disrupting its focus on its primary concern — namely, the situation east of the Euphrates. The Sept. 17 Sochi agreement, which averted a looming operation in Idlib, is a temporary reprieve. To make it permanent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to fulfill Turkey’s end of the deal: to help establish the agreed-upon demilitarized zone; disarm its allied groups; weed out terrorists; and, by the year’s end, open Idlib’s highways to traffic. Forcing this on militant groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party and the Guardians of Religion Organization — the main forces in Idlib — is a tough job.

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