23

The Year That Ended an Epoch?

MADRID – As 2016 comes to an end, the outlook for 2017 is shrouded in uncertainty. Tensions in the Middle East are rising, and populist movements have appeared in Europe and the United States.

In the Middle East, the tragic conflict in Syria continues, despite several fruitless attempts at rapprochement, which were marred by the fundamental disagreement about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s future role in any peace process or political transition. Meanwhile, over the past week, Syrian government troops, backed by Russia and Iran, have retaken almost all of Aleppo – once Syria’s largest city, now utterly devastated by the war.

The world’s priority for the coming year must be to achieve peace in Syria, which will require close regional and international cooperation. On December 27, Iran, Russia, and Turkey will hold a tripartite meeting in Moscow to discuss a political solution for the Syria conflict. That meeting, if it takes place, is likely to be overshadowed by the fallout from the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. But it is nothing if not surprising that these parties, and not the US and the European Union, would be negotiating such an agreement.

One positive development this year came in March, when the EU and Turkey signed an agreement to address the refugee crisis. Turkey has now taken in some three million Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict. Although EU-Turkey relations are currently not at their best, the dialogue between the two sides must continue in 2017, not least because of their common interests, which are based not only on economic interdependence, but also on the refugee crisis and the collective fight against terrorism.