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Ankara and Tehran vs. the Kurds?

Walter Russell Mead

Could Turkey and Iran be coming to some kind of rapprochement in Syria? It’s far from a sure thing given the stakes both countries have in the conflict, but the overall positive tone to relations, a deal of some sort is not out of the question. Al-Monitor games out the possibilities:

Turkey and Iran both feel the Syrian heat, but they also believe that surrender is not an option. Turkey is ready to talk, perhaps about many things, among them the future of Syria’s defiant president, Bashar al-Assad, including how many months he might stay on or if he can run in the country’s next election. This is all on the agenda, but that doesn’t mean Turkey is relinquishing its objectives in war-torn Syria.

Iran is also ready to talk, and Assad’s future is part of the conversation that Tehran is willing to have. This is not, however, the same as Iran being willing to walk away from the sacrifices made by IRGC members killed in action in Syria or the many Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghan fighters who lost their lives after having joined forces under the banner of the “resistance axis.” Both Iran and Turkey are trying to preserve their interests as they discuss a potential compromise. Thus, the best approach for the two countries is to focus on common interests or common threats while at the negotiating table.

And who would be left holding the short end of the stick?

One of the main threats both countries, as well as Syria, face is the prospect of the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, despite the differences among the Kurds, who are spread over the territories of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Kurdish challenge in Iran may not be identical to that in Turkey, but the danger of a domino effect in the region is so strong that no party wants to take any chances. In this equation, Russia also has a role to play in thwarting any attempt to carve out an independent Kurdish state in Syria.

The one thing Middle Eastern governments have been able to agree on for the last 100 years is shafting the Kurds. Indeed, there’s evidence that even Bashar al-Assad is turning on them these days. As U.S. influence in the region wanes, there is zero doubt that the biggest losers will, as usual, be the Kurds—the Obama administration’s preferred partners in Syria.

This has not been a great year for these American allies—and their darkening situation is not exactly an advertisement to others about the value of an American alliance.

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