Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran meet for high-stakes Syria talks
September 7 at 6:38 AM
ISTANBUL â" The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened Friday in Tehran for a high-stakes summit that could shape one of the final battles of Syriaâs civil war.
The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkeyâs Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani comes as Syriaâs government is preparing for an all-out assault on the last rebel stronghold in Idlib province.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has nearly quashed a seven-year-long uprising and has retaken much of the territory his forces lost to the rebellion. U.N. officials warned this week of a humanitarian catastrophe if a military offensive in Idlib moves forward.
The area in northwest Syria is home to some 3 million people â" the majority of whom were displaced from other regions â" as well as an array of Sunni rebels dominated by Islamist militant s linked to al-Qaeda. Syriaâs conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced a staggering 11 million people both inside and outside the country.
Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, has backed the opposition while Russia and Iran support the Syrian government. The three nations, however, have come together to negotiate cease-fires and the parameters of a potential political settlement to the war.
Turkish officials, fearing a fresh refugee crisis, want to prevent a large-scale assault on Idlib, analysts say. And Turkey has sought to separate some of Idlibâs more moderate fighters from the hardcore Islamist militants affiliated with al-Qaeda.
[A Syrian showdown looms. Millions of lives are at risk. Here are the stakes.]
According to the pro-government Turkish daily newspaper, Sabah, Turkey will propose Friday a plan that includes disarming militants and evacuating them through safe corridors to a buffer zone. The details of the report coul d not be verified, but it also included some concessions to Russia, which has pressured Turkey to confront militants there.
Under an earlier agreement between the three powers, Idlib was designated a âde-escalation zone,â and Turkish troops deployed to observation posts in the province. As part of the deal, they agreed to rout the former al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known as HTS, from the area. Russia, however, has accused Turkey of failing to act and has recently stepped up airstrikes in Idlib.
âTurkeyâs aim in Idlib has been to avoid a new, destabilizing conflict on its border. Ankara has argued for a strategy of containmentâ of more hard-line elements, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report this week.
But, the group said, âit is not obvious that even the elimination of HTS would satisfy Russia and head off a Syrian regime offensive in Idlib.â
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