Iranian, Russian and Turkish leaders discuss co-ordinated effort on Syria

Talks were the first on Syria between the three foreign powers since September

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. The three leaders discussed the situation in Syria and ways to promote a political settlement.(Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed efforts to stabilise Syria in a video conference on Wednesday with the leaders of Turkey and Iran, the Kremlin said.

The three “reiterated their determination to enhance the trilateral co-ordination”, they said.

They “emphasised their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” of Syria.

The talks were the first since September in the so-called Astana format, in which the three powers discuss developments in Syria, where the conflict has entered its 10th year.

Russia and Iran have staunchly supported Syrian President Bashar Al Assad throughout the country’s war, while Turkey has backed his foes.

But the three countries have pooled their efforts to help end hostilities.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told the conference that Tehran "believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution”.

“I emphasise that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general,” Mr Rouhani said.

Mr Putin praised the trilateral co-operation to help reduce violence in the country, but he also stressed the need to deal with a few pockets of militant resistance.

“We need to think what other steps must be taken to neutralise the terrorist groups that are still active,” he said at the start of the meeting.

Mr Putin said the situation in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib and the areas east of the Euphrates River remained tense.

He lauded co-operation between Russia and Turkey to reduce hostility in Idlib.

“The situation in the de-escalation zone has stabilised considerably following the introduction of a ceasefire," Mr Putin said.

In early March, an agreement between Turkey and Russia halted the Syrian government’s three-month air and ground campaign into rebel-held Idlib. The ceasefire has largely held.

Mr Putin said Syria needed help to rebuild its economy and encourage the return of refugees.

He criticised US and the EU sanctions against the government of President Bashar Al Assad as an attempt to “strangle Syria economically”.

The Trump administration this month began implementing new sanctions aimed at cutting off revenue for Mr Al Assad’s government.

The sanctions, known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, are the toughest set of measures to be imposed on Syria yet.

They prevent anyone around the world from doing business with Syrian officials or state institutions, or from taking part in the country’s reconstruction.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also underlined the need to find a political solution to the conflict.

“I hope that during this meeting we will continue this impetus,” Mr Erdogan said.

Last month, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, told the Security Council he hoped talks on drafting the country’s new constitution could be held in late August.