Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ankara, Turkey, September 16, 2019
The presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran have discussed the 111-month Syria conflict, raising the question of whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin will put pressure on Bashar al-Assad for compromise towards a political resolution.
Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in a televised video conference.
Much of the conversation, especially from the Russian and Iranian sides, was rhetoric about “terrorism” and denunciation of US sanctions on the Assad regime.
In the most substantial comment, Putin pressed the stalled effort for discussions by a 150-delegate Constitutional Committee:
An inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue should be actively promoted within the framework of the constitutional committee in Geneva. I propose to support this process, to help the participants to meet and start a direct dialogue.
Moscow has pursued the committee idea for since early 2018, with 50 members each from the regime, the nominal Syrian opposition, and civil society groups.
Meetings were finally convened last autumn under UN auspices, but the Assad regime blocked any advance with the insistence that “sovereignty” and the fight against “terrorism” — its label for Syrian opposition factions — take priority.
Reports have circulated since late April of Russia’s dissatisfaction with Assad over the lack of progress, as well as corruption and Syria’s dire economic situation. Russian State outlets and allies of Putin have published sharp criticisms of the regime.
In a joint statement, the three leaders said the committee will next meet in August.
Turkish Priority on Idlib
Turkey’s priority was to prevent any renewed Russian-offensive against opposition territory in northwest Syria. Erdoğan said, “Maintaining the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the establishment of calm on the ground and a lasting solution to the conflict are our priorities.”
An 11-month Russian-regime offensive was paused by an agreement between Erdoğan and Putin on March 5. The attacks seized almost all of northern Hama Province and part of south and east Idlib Province. They killed about 2,000 civilians, wounded thousands, and displaced more than a million.
Earlier this month Russian warplanes twice bombed in Idlib Province and the al-Ghab Plain, amid clashes between pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces.
Iran’s Rouhani stuck to general comments, while providing the rationale for any renewed pro-Assad attacks on opposition territory.
The Islamic Republic believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution. We continue to support the inter-Syrian dialogue and underline our determination to fight the terrorism of Daesh [Islamic State], Al Qa’eda and other related groups.
I emphasize that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general.
He also demanded the withdrawal of the “illegimate” US military presence, which is supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria.