In this week's Monday Briefing, MEI experts Gonul Tol, Daniel Serwer, and Jean-François Seznec provide analysis on recent and upcoming events including the Turkish intervention in Syria, and next month's OPEC meeting in Algeria.
Turkey-Y.P.G. Fighting a Worry for Washington
Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies
As Turkey and the Syrian rebels advance deeper into Syria, capturing territory controlled by Kurdish-aligned forces, Turkey’s U.S.-backed military incursion complicates Washington’s fight against ISIS. Turkey recently sent tanks and troops into Syria and the Turkish-backed forces captured the border town of Jarabulus last week from ISIS. But the new fighting pits two American allies against each other: Syrian rebels backed by Turkey and the West and Kurdish-led militias that work with the Pentagon under an umbrella group called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F.
The United States criticized clashes between Turkish forces and some opposition groups in northern Syria as "unacceptable" and called on all armed actors in the fighting to stand down and focus on the fight against the Islamic State. But that is unlikely to happen. The Turkish offensive is likely to continue to focus on the Y.P.G, and the Y.P.G. is not likely to back off either. Despite claims by Kurdish groups and the United States that the Y.P.G. have withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates river, a long-time demand of Ankara, there are reports that there are still Kurdish-allied forces in the west of the river. If the fighting between the Y.P.G. and Turkey continues, the United States will be put into a tough spot. It will be forced to pick a side between its NATO ally and the most effective partner on the ground against ISIS.
U.S.-Russia Talks on Syria Fail, but Ties Improve with Turkey
Daniel Serwer, MEI Scholar
Lengthy talks Friday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on renewing the cessation of hostilities in Syria and enabling humanitarian access failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Talks at lower levels will continue next week, but it appears the Russians are unwilling to agree to what the Americans need in order to bring the Syrian opposition on board.
Last week's U.S.-supported Turkish incursion into Syria at Jarabulus in support of Free Syrian Army forces was a hat trick from Washington's perspective. It accomplished three important objectives: it deprived the Islamic State of its last major crossing on the Syrian/Turkish border; it blocked Kurdish forces (Y.P.G.) from taking over the last stretch of that border that they do not control; and it began to repair U.S.-Turkish relations, under severe strain since the attempted coup last month. Associating the military action with Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Ankara was an added fillip from the Obama administration's perspective. Now the Americans will want to discourage fighting between its two allies in Turkey and the Kurds—the latter of which is yet to comply with U.S. and Turkish requests that they withdraw east of the Euphrates.
The incursion at Jarabulus has discomforted the Assad government, which regards it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. But President Bashar al-Assad's Russian and Iranian allies are not objecting loudly to a move that harms the Islamic State and puts its capital Raqqa at risk.
Iran to Attend OPEC Meeting Next Month
Jean-François Seznec, MEI Scholar
OPEC will again be pushing for a price increase at its meeting in Algiers next month, after Iran decided last week that it would attend. Naturally, the effort is likely to fail and OPEC will have to start over again and again, until it resolves its basic disagreements.
The supply/demand balance has not changed since the last meeting, except that all oil producers are poorer. The market demand has not yet caught up to the supply and is not likely to do so in the near future. Saudi Arabia and Iran are still at each other’s throats politically, unlikely to cooperate on the oil front and will increase output just to spite each other. At the same time, non-OPEC producers, like Russia, are still pumping crude as quickly as they can.
The best that can be expected would be that all OPEC countries accept a freeze in production to wait for an eventual increase in demand. However, Saudi Arabia is producing 10.6 mb/d, Iran 3.5 mb/d, and Iraq 4.3 mb/d, about half a million b/d more than reported for their June 2016 meeting in Vienna. Therefore, in light of no major growth in China and minimal growth in Europe, a freeze would achieve no substantial price increase.
The main positive of the meeting is that Iran and Saudi Arabia will keep talking, albeit indirectly. However, having a forum is OPEC’s main purpose. Talks are better than war, and give a faint chance to the people of goodwill to hear one another.