Turkey, Russia emphasize joint fight against terrorism

DAILY SABAH WITH AGENCIES
ISTANBUL
Published

A Turkish delegation led by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held talks about Syria with their Russian counterparts in Moscow on Saturday, where the officials highlighted the significance of joint moves against terrorism threats.

"We reviewed the steps we took with the Sochi process and what steps we will take from now on regarding Syria," Çavuşoğlu said after the 1.5-hour meeting with the Russian foreign and defense ministers, adding that Turkey and Russia share the common goal of clearing all terror organizations from Syria.

Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey will continue close cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and regional issues.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan accompanied Çavuşoğlu in the Russian capital.

Headlining the meeting were the search for solutions to humanitarian issues, including the repatriation of refugees, the situation on the ground after the U.S.' withdrawal and the launch of the political process.

"First, we discussed solutions to humanitarian issues; the creation of conditions for the return of refugees," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, adding that "Special attention was paid to the new situation developing in connection with the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria."

"And an understanding was reached on how the military representatives of Russia and Turkey will continue to coordinate their steps on the ground amid the new conditions, with a view to the final eradication of the terrorist threat on Syrian soil," he said.

Both Turkey and Russia once again stressed unconditional respect for Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Lavrov added.

"Secondly, concrete measures were outlined to intensify our joint work aimed at creating conditions that will allow more refugees to return to their homes," he said. "The third theme was the political process."

"It was launched by the guarantor countries of the Astana platform and received additional impetus thanks to the Congress of the National Dialogue in Sochi," he said, stressing that Russia, Turkey and Iran "have done everything they promised to do to form a constitutional committee," which expected to start its work early next year in Geneva.

Ahead of the meeting, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said that Turkish and Russian foreign and defense ministers will evaluate the implementation of the agreement reached in Istanbul and Idlib and discuss the U.S.' withdrawal from Syria.

"We will have the opportunity to discuss once again the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone and in the demilitarization zone," Shoygu said.

In an effort to contribute to the efforts to end the ongoing Syrian conflict, Turkey, Iran and Russia launched the process in the Kazakh capital Astana. Last year, the three guarantor countries agreed in Astana to establish de-escalation zones in the northern province of Idlib and parts of neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

Under the Astana agreement, Turkey established 12 observation points from Idlib's north to south aiming to monitor and sustain the current cease-fire agreement for the de-escalation zones, deliver humanitarian aid and ensure the secure return of displaced people.

The guarantors have said that the Astana process is not an alternative but a complementary initiative to the U.N.-brokered Geneva talks.

The Sochi agreement, on the other hand, was reached on Sept. 17 between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The deal established a cease-fire in the Idlib region, the last opposition stronghold in Syria, on the condition that heavy arms and extremist groups would withdraw from the region.

Prior to the agreement, the Bashar Assad regime was signaling an expansive military operation against Idlib, sparking fears in the international community of a new humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, Putin, in a New Year letter to Erdoğan, said yesterday that Turkey and his country will continue to strengthen security in Asia.

Putin also noted that the efforts of both countries contribute to the anti-terror fight and political process in Syria.

President Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also discussed yesterday the developments in Syria, irregular migration to Europe and the fight against terrorism over the phone. The two leaders agreed on having close contact during the process of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to visit Turkey and Israel this week in order to discuss the situation in Syria following the U.S. withdrawal.

A Turkish delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, will travel to Washington on Jan. 8 to attend a meeting of the joint working group on Syria.

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