20 February 2020
Turkish, Russian and Iranian representatives are working on coordinating a date for a trilateral summit on Syrian peace process, according to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
“The parties are working to agree on the date for the summit. As soon as an agreement between the three countries is reached, the date of the summit will be announced to the public,” Russia’s TASS news agency cited a source in Turkey’s Foreign Ministry as saying on Thursday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov earlier told TASS that a trilateral Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit could be held in Tehran in early March, if the Turkish leadership agreed.
The previous trilateral meeting, the fifth in a row, between the presidents of the countries acting as guarantors of the Astana process to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria took place in Ankara in September 2019.
The trio also maintains contacts as part of the high-level meetings on Syria in Nur-Sultan. The last such meeting was held on December 10-11, 2019.
The development comes as Syria is conducting a major operation to liberate the northwestern province of Idlib, the last terrorist-held bastion.
The Syrian army has been making steady advances in its northwest in the past few weeks, liberating a strategic city and a key highway which connects Damascus to Aleppo, among other gains.
Syria began the offensive in December to drive out the terrorists from Idlib and neighboring areas after its troops and those of Russia came under increasing attacks.
The Syrian gains, however, have coincided with Turkey’s massive deployment of troops and military equipment to Syria.
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib, set up as part of an Iran-brokered agreement with Russia to de-escalate the situation near the Turkish border. Some of the posts, however, now lie in the territory that has been recaptured in joint Russo-Syrian efforts.
Ankara, which itself supports a number of anti-Damascus militant outfits in Idlib, claims that Syrian offensives there have killed 13 of its troops this month. It has threatened to attack the Syrian military unless government forces abandoned the liberated areas, and asked Moscow to “stop” Damascus.
Talks with Russia warming but more needed:Turkey’s FM
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday there was some rapprochement with Russia in talks about Idlib, but added that discussions were not at a desired level yet.
Speaking to broadcaster TRT Haber, Cavusoglu said Turkey and Russia would intensify their talks on Idlib in the coming days, adding that Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may discuss the issue as well.
‘Turkey, Russia discussing joint patrols in Idlib’
Meanwhile an unnamed Turkish official told Reuters on Thursday that Turkey and Russia were discussing possible joint patrols around Idlib region as one option to ensure security there.
The official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran, Turkey and Russia plan to meet in Tehran early next month to further discuss Syria, including Idlib.
A Russian delegation may come to Ankara before that for further talks, the source said.
On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish military operation in Idlib to drive back Syrian forces was a “matter of time” after talks with Moscow failed to reach a solution.
Turkey’s envoy to the United Nation Feridun Sinirlioglu said Wednesday that “Turkey will hit any targets deemed a threat in Idlib,” adding Ankara would not withdraw troops from the region.
“We will not withdraw our forces and we will not abandon our observation posts,” he said while speaking at a UN Security Council meeting in New York.
The Turkish official said that Ankara would continue to respond by all necessary means against any attacks by the Damascus government on Turkish troops.
He further said that the Syrian government forces should withdraw from their current positions “until the end of this month”.
He said that Turkish troops are in Idlib to stabilize the situation and to preserve the de-escalation area.
“Our military presence and reinforcements are fully in line with the Sochi Memorandum of September 2018”.