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Russia and Iran Seek to Talk Turkey Out of Syria Incursion

Leaders from the three countries meet today in Tehran to talk Syria, the war in Ukraine, and wider regional issues.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
From left: Then-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak during a press conference following a trilateral meeting on Syria in Ankara, Turkey, on Sept. 16, 2019.
From left: Then-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak during a press conference following a trilateral meeting on Syria in Ankara, Turkey, on Sept. 16, 2019.
From left: Then-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak during a press conference following a trilateral meeting on Syria in Ankara, Turkey, on Sept. 16, 2019. ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the meeting of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s election ploy; and former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comeback attempt.

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Raisi Hosts Erdogan, Putin in Tehran

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the meeting of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s election ploy; and former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comeback attempt.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Raisi Hosts Erdogan, Putin in Tehran

Days after U.S. President Joe Biden completed his tour of the Middle East, the leaders of Iran, Russia, and Turkey are meeting in Tehran for a three-way summit.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are trying to talk Turkey out of war. With Russia engaged in Ukraine, Turkey is planning its own “special military operation”—this time against the Kurds in Syria’s north.

In June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined his plans to target two towns near the Turkish-Syrian border as part of a wider offensive. “We are taking another step in establishing a 30-kilometer [19-mile] security zone along our southern border. We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Manbij,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkish forces would then continue “step by step into other regions.”

Any incursion risks upsetting an already internationalized conflict that has made millions of people refugees. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a group backed by the United States, has warned that a Turkish assault would hamper anti-Islamic State operations in the region.

Dana Stroul, the senior U.S. Defense Department official for the Middle East, agrees. On Monday, she told a Washington audience that the Biden administration “strongly” opposes a Turkish offensive. “ISIS is going to take advantage of that campaign, not to mention the humanitarian impact,” Stroul warned.

Russia and Iran have their own reasons for wanting the status quo to remain in Syria, each country having invested considerable military might (both direct and indirect) over the past 11 years to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.

“At the end of the day, the Iranian-Russian game plan is pretty straightforward: They want Assad to stay in power and to give Assad as much control over as much of Syria as possible,” Alex Vatanka, the Iran program director at the Middle East Institute (MEI), told Foreign Policy.

Iranian-backed militias and Syrian government troops are preparing for confrontation with Turkish forces or at least seeking to deter their advances. The Shiite-dominant settlements of Zahra and Nubl, both close to Tal Rifaat, have been sent reinforcements in recent weeks to fortify defenses and to prevent parts of nearby government-controlled Aleppo from becoming Turkey’s next target.

Iran’s moves in Syria come amid wider wariness over Turkish strategy, with Ankara’s closer ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia sparking fears of a broader anti-Tehran alliance. Hamidreza Azizi at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs explored the issue at length in an MEI blog post.

The meeting is also a chance for timely one-on-one meetings with Putin.

With Erdogan, Putin is likely to continue a conversation begun by Turkish, Ukrainian, and Russian military officials last week about exporting Ukraine’s grain. A deal is expected to be signed as soon as this week to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports, although U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned last week that there was still work to be done to reach a final agreement.

Today’s talks also come as the White House warns of increased cooperation between Iran and Russia on military hardware. Last week, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned that Tehran was preparing to provide Moscow with “hundreds” of drones for use in Ukraine. Last Friday, CNN reported that Russian officials had recently visited Iran to view the aircraft in person.

While the military cooperation is significant, it’s not an indication of a broader alliance forming between Tehran and Moscow, which are both competing on the energy market to find buyers for sanctioned oil, Vatanka said. “There is a very heavy dose of anti-Americanism that they both have, and that brings them together. Is that enough to call it a strategic relationship? It might go in that direction, but I think it’s still premature to call it that.”


Keep an Eye On

Pakistan’s politics. Ousted former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again called for new elections after his PTI party won 15 out of 20 seats in a surprise victory in by-elections in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state. The result puts pressure on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, whose PML-N party usually fares well in Punjab’s provincial elections.

Bolsonaro’s election ploy. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered dozens of foreign diplomats at his presidential palace on Monday to lecture them over supposed vulnerabilities in the country’s electronic voting systems. The event is the latest attempt by Bolsonaro to discredit Brazil’s election system ahead of October presidential elections, which he is forecast to lose. Shortly after the meeting, the head of Brazil’s electoral body—without mentioning Bolsonaro—criticized those spreading “disinformation” about alleged election interference.


Odds and Ends

Britain helpfully illustrated the national security implications of climate change on Monday during its record-breaking heatwave, as the high temperatures of up to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.1 degrees Celsius) forced flights to divert from the Royal Air Force Brize Norton air base. A military source told Sky News that the “runway has melted” due to the heat.

The Royal Air Force maintained that its operations were not disrupted and that “aircraft are using alternative airfields in line with a long-established plan.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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