Putin and Erdogan press for ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria
SOCHI, RUSSIA // The presidents of Russia and Turkey say they support the formation of so-called safe zones in Syria and hope an agreement about them will be reached at the multilateral Syria talks underway in Kazakhstan.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Wednesday at the Russian presidential complex in the resort city of Sochi. At a joint press conference, Mr Erdogan said their two countries had the ability to “change the destiny of the whole region” together.
The Turkish leader said he hoped the concept of a “zone of de-escalation” would be accepted at the talks on Syria going on simultaneously in Astana, the Kazakh capital, with Iran and the US also in attendance.
And if fighting on the ground stops entirely, any proposed safe areas in Syria should become no-fly zones, Mr Putin said.
“If there is a de-escalation zone, then planes will not fly there on condition that no military activity emanates from these zones,” said the Russian leader.
The two leaders met only hours after Mr Putin discussed the plan for safe zones in Syria with US president Donald Trump in what the White House described as a “very good” phone call.
It was the first time the two leaders had spoken since Mr Trump infuriated the Kremlin by launching a missile strike against the forces of Russia’s ally Bashar Al Assad last month, in retaliation for a chemical attack allegedly ordered by his government.
However, the omens for agreement by the parties meeting in Astana were not good as Syrian rebels on Wednesday said they were suspending participation in the latest - the fouth - round of peace talks.
“The rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent air strikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria,” said a rebel source in Astana.
The walk-out-out came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said a car bomb killed at least five people in the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border
The negotiations began with a series of bilateral meetings and were expected to focus on the Russian plan, which calls for de-escalation zones in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib, in parts of Homs province in the centre, in the south, and in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, with checkpoints and monitoring centres manned by government and rebel troops. Military units from unspecified “observer countries” could also be deployed
The Syrian opposition wants United Nations peacekeepers to be deployed but the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia reported that the Syrian government had rejected that idea,
If the warring parties sign up to the safe zones plan, a “joint working group” would be created.
Relations between Russia and Turkey have also improved greatly, despite the two countries supporting opposites sides in Syria. Moscow and Ankara were at odds after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November 2015 and Russia responded with trade and tourism sanctions.
But Mr Putin said on Wednesday that relations have been restored.
“It is very good that we have the chance to meet and talk about the key issues of bilateral cooperation and the main international problems including ones as serious as the Syrian crisis,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse
* Associated Press
Updated: May 3, 2017 04:00 AM