External Affairs

End of Syria War Nears as Sochi Meeting Unites Iran, Russia, Turkey

Meanwhile, a gathering of hardline anti-government Syrian groups met in Riyadh and persisted in the demand that Assad leaves power.

A three-way summit on Wednesday between the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey has produced decisive steps toward ending the bloodshed in Syria. Credit: Reuters

Sochi (Russia): The Syrian civil war appears to be all but won by the government of President Bashar al-Assad after the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey adopted a joint declaration agreeing to cooperate in deescalating tensions, restoring normalcy and protecting the sovereignty of the war-ravaged country, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Wednesday after a trilateral summit in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

“The document defines priorities for further cooperation of Russia, Turkey and Iran, which have the upper hand in Syrian issues, and sets concrete tasks for the future,” Putin said, adding that the talks between the three heads of state were held in a “constructive and businesslike manner.”

In a joint statement, the three leaders called on the Syrian government and moderate opposition to “participate constructively” in the planned congress, to be held in the same city on a date they did not specify.

“The congress will look at the key questions on Syria’s national agenda,” Putin told reporters at the summit, sitting alongside Rouhani and Erdogan. “First of all, that is the drawing-up of a framework for the future structure of the state, the adoption of a new constitution, and, on the basis of that, the holding of elections under United Nations supervision.”

Having helped Assad’s government reach the cusp of victory alongside allied regional powers Iran and Lebanese political party and militia Hezbollah, Putin now appears to be playing the leading role in international efforts to end the war on terms agreeable to the Syrian Arab Republic.

“I can state with satisfaction that the presidents of Iran and Turkey welcomed the idea of convening a pan-Syrian forum – a Syrian National Dialogue Congress,” Putin said, according to Russia’s TASS newswire service.

In addition to hosting Assad, Rouhani and Erdogan, the Russian leader has also phoned US president Donald Trump and Saudi king Salman in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a gathering of hardline anti-government Syrian groups met in Riyadh to seek a unified position ahead of peace talks, persisting in the demand that Assad leaves power, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported.

Opposition groups held their meeting on Wednesday at a hotel in Riyadh, two days after the leader of the high negotiations committee (HNC) that has represented them at previous peace talks quit abruptly. HNC chief Riyad Hijab had been known as an uncompromising defender of the position that Assad must have no role in any political transition for Syria, and his resignation had led to speculation the opposition could soften its stance.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been obsessed with dislodging Assad in a bid to reduce Iran’s growing regional hegemony, throwing its weight and considerable financial backing behind a range of opposition groups, including Sunni Islamist extremists.

While Riyadh appears to recognize Russia’s dominant role in Syria, especially after King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow a few months ago, the kingdom appears unwilling to recognize the new regional reality whereby Iran and its allies will continue to play a role in Syria.

“If regional nations and countries are to learn a lesson from the fabricated crisis in Syria today, it is that they should know certain powers claiming to advocate democracy and human rights spare no effort like using terrorism and violence to achieve their short-sighted objectives in the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.

“The lesson that these powers have not learned is that repercussions of terrorism and extremism will not be confined to a region (and) other parts of the world will not be safe from the ominous phenomena,” he added, expressing his regret that “certain nations” continue to create rifts and conflicts among regional countries.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was also in attendance, where he tweeted that the summit would “help Syrian people finally secure a just and lasting peace.”

In a subsequent tweet, Zarif alluded to US president Donald Trump’s May meeting in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, where the allies famously gripped a glowing orb in a dedication to a new Saudi anti-terrorism centre: “No need for empty words or gimmicks – including glowing orbs – when you’re busy actually working for peace and against terror.”

Russia said on Tuesday that the resignation of such “radically minded” Syrian opposition figures as HNC chief Hijab would help unite the disparate opposition factions around a more “realistic” platform.