Erdogan, Putin, Rouhani meet to find lasting solution to Syrian civil war

Topping the agenda of the meeting is the volatile situation in Idlib — the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.

By Associated Press

The leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are meeting in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria, with the aim of halting fighting in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib and finding a lasting political solution to Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.

Topping the agenda of the meeting is the volatile situation in Idlib — the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria — where a ceasefire went into effect at the end of August, following a wide four-month offensive by government forces.

The ceasefire has been holding despite some violations that left six people dead last week. A major conflict in Idlib has raised the possibility of a mass refugee flow to Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, some already displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, have moved toward Turkey’s border to flee Syrian airstrikes, backed by Russia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Turkey could “open its gates” and allow Syrians already living in his country to flood Western countries if Turkey is left to shoulder the refugee burden alone.

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Monday’s talks are the fifth trilateral meeting among countries that stand on opposing sides of the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani are key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Turkey backs Syrian rebels seeking to oust him.

A major offensive was averted last September when Erdogan and Putin agreed in the Russian resort town of Sochi to set up a demilitarized zone in Idlib and open two major highways. Those plans, as well as a Turkish pledge to tame armed groups in Idlib, dominated by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, have largely failed.

Despite divergent interests in Syria, Erdogan and Putin have been building closer ties, having met seven times in 2019 alone. Russia has delivered two batteries of the S-400 surface to air missile systems to Turkey and the two countries are cooperating on energy deals.

The three leaders were also expected to take up Turkish and American plans for a so-called “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, to meet Turkish demands for U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara considers terrorists, alleging they have ties to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey, to be pushed farther from its border.

Ankara is also lobbying for a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in Turkey-controlled zones across northern Syria.