ISTANBUL — Turkey on Thursday said it planned to host in Istanbul a new three-way summit on Syria with the presidents of Russia and Iran aimed at reviving a drive to bring peace to the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to hold the summit in Istanbul alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in telephone talks Thursday, a Turkish presidential source said.
Putin had already hosted a similar summit with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in November. A Turkish official told AFP the date for the Istanbul summit would be fixed later, without giving an indication when this might be. In its readout of the talks, the Kremlin said Putin and Erdogan “confirmed their commitment to a political settlement” to the Syrian conflict.
“The importance of joint Russia-Turkey-Iran work was emphasized and new contacts at different levels would be discussed” it said, without confirming that a leaders’ summit would be held in Istanbul. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said a summit had been discussed but no date had been decided. Erdogan and Putin also discussed the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish militia in their northwestern enclave of Afrin, the Turkish source said.
Some Russian officials have expressed concern about the Turkish offensive but analysts believe it would never have gone ahead without at least the tacit assent of Moscow. The two also agreed to accelerate work to establish new “observation points” in the northwestern province of Idlib to reduce violence, the source added. A convoy of Turkish troops Monday entered Idlib — which is largely controlled by Islamist rebel forces — to set up an “observation point” in line with peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The talks sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia, set out the creation of four so-called de-escalation zones; Idlib, the greater Damascus area, the southern region of Daraa and the city of Homs. The summit, if it takes place, will be the latest example of the increasingly intense contact between Ankara and Moscow over Syria. Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow’s military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict.
Turkey, however, has backed the rebels seeking Assad’s ouster in a seven-year conflict that has left more than 340,000 dead. But Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.