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Russia, Turkey ‘agree on need for decisive measures’ in Syria's Idlib

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This handout picture, released by the Turkish Defense Ministry on February 11, 2019, shows Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu (L) during a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Ankara, Turkey. (Via AFP)

Russia and Turkey say they agree on the need to take “decisive measures” to stabilize the situation in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, ahead of a summit between the presidents of the three guarantor states of a negotiated Syrian ceasefire, namely Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

The agreement was outlined in a joint statement released following talks between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Monday.

The statement, which stressed “security in the Idlib demilitarized zone,” however, did not specify what the measures would be or when they might be adopted.

“Despite provocations, we underlined the importance and need to continue partnerships between our two countries’ intelligence and military forces to establish peace and to support stability in Idlib,” it said.

Separately, Akar said that Ankara was in talks with Moscow “at all levels” in an attempt to “restore peace and stability in the region and protect interests of both countries.” He also expressed hope that such cooperation would contribute to “world peace.”

Shoigu, for his part, said that earlier this month, Russian and Turkish military experts had met in Moscow to discuss “the most important issues for the Syrian settlement regarding further stabilization in the Idlib zone and everything that concerns the eastern bank of the Euphrates.”

Foreign-backed militancy erupted in Syria in March 2011, breaking out into an all-out conflict that drew in a mix of international terrorists and paid mercenaries fighting against the Syrian government. But that conflict has been winding down as Damascus reasserts control over parts formerly held by militant and terrorist groups.

Idlib Province remains largely unsettled because it remains a concentration point of armed groups. Over the past couple of years, armed groups that have been defeated in battles with the Syrian military have been bused into Idlib under agreements with Damascus. While those groups have mostly had to leave their heavy weaponry behind under the deals, they have been allowed to take their small arms with them.

Iran, Russia, and Turkey,  which have committed to guaranteeing negotiated peace in Syria, have been negotiating a settlement for Idlib. Ankara represents Syrian opposition interests, and Tehran and Moscow are Damascus allies.

The meeting between the Russian and Turkish defense ministers comes before a planned summit of the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey on the peace process in Syria.

On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold a tripartite summit in the Russian coastal city of Sochi to provide further coordination among the three countries.

The three leaders, who are going to hold their fourth such meeting in the Astana format, will concentrate on the long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis.

The summit will be held before the 12th Astana talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The first round of the Astana talks commenced a month after the three guarantors joined efforts and brought about an all-Syria ceasefire.

Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara have been mediating peace negotiations between representatives from the Damascus government and Syrian opposition groups in a series of rounds held in Astana and other places since January 2017. The talks are collectively referred to as the Astana peace process.

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