Despite the change of rhetoric between US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States has continued to lose influence, political and military, in the Middle East to the Iran-Russia axis.
Since January 2017, the Russia-led Astana political process, including Iran and Turkey, has run parallel to the internationally recognised Geneva process. Moscow drew in Ankara after the Turks changed their priorities from overthrowing Iran’s and Russia’s client, Syrian President Bashar Assad, to containing the Syrian Democratic Forces. The United States has empowered the group, which is an arm of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a partner against the Islamic State. “De-escalation zones” created by Astana allowed Assad’s battered regime to eliminate pockets of resistance one at a time, until only Idlib was left.
This reshaping of the military picture in Syria was leveraged into political currency, positing Assad as a counterterrorism partner and intended to redraw the Geneva terms so it was no longer about transitioning Assad out but negotiating the terms under which he would stay.
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