Vladimir Putin urges 'compromise' over Syria at summit with Turkey, Iran

Putin (centre), with Iran's Rouhani (left) and Turkey's Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, Nov 22, 2017.
Putin (centre), with Iran's Rouhani (left) and Turkey's Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, Nov 22, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

SOCHI, Russia (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday (Nov 22) there was a need for compromise on all sides to end Syria’s civil war, announcing plans for a congress of regime and opposition figures he insisted would reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.

Such a meeting between representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition should happen soon, Putin said, having agreed the move at a much-touted summit with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin, who had met with Assad on Monday, said the six-year conflict was entering “a new stage” but that the Syrian leader would not be exempt from having to bend if the war is to end.

“It is obvious that the reform process will not be simple, it will require compromise and concessions from all parties, including obviously the Syrian government,” Putin said after two hours of talks with Rouhani and Erdogan in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Russian, Turkish and Iranian coordination had been a key factor in lessening hostilities, he added.

The three leaders agreed to call on regime and opposition parties to “participate in the Congress of Syrian national dialogue in Sochi in the near future,” a joint statement said.

The date and precise list of invitees, however, remains to be decided.

The initiative, first proposed last month in Astana, has so far not taken off as Syrian opposition groups have rejected it, a problem that looks difficult to overcome.

Erdogan on Wednesday had fumed at the prospect of inviting Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) fighting in northern Syria, saying “we cannot consider a terrorist gang with blood on their hands as a legitimate actor.” Putin however said the congress would be a “stimulus” for activating UN peace talks in Geneva, which have stalled despite numerous rounds.

He added that there was a “real chance” to end Syria’s war which monitors say has killed more than 330,000 people.

'SYRIA HAS BEEN SAVED'

Russia claims credit for more or less ending the military conflict through its intervention but Western governments have accused it of carrying out war crimes, including the bombing of hospitals.

Regardless, the various sides in Syria are far from reaching a political agreement.

Ahead of Wednesday’s summit in Sochi, Putin discussed Syria with US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, among other leaders.

Syria is divided between forces loyal to Kremlin-allied strongman Assad, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and several jihadist groups and rebel units.

Multiple rounds of talks hosted by the UN have failed to make a breakthrough. Other initiatives including those spearheaded by Moscow have also failed to bear much fruit.

But with regime forces having gained the upper hand on the battlefield with Russia’s help, including recent victories against the Islamic State group and a fresh drive against rebels near Damascus, Putin is trying again.

Moscow, Ankara and Tehran are now cooperating with increasing intensity on ending the civil war, even though Turkey backs the rebels, at odds with Russia and Iran.

The Syrian president’s fate remains a stumbling block, preventing global players from reaching a peace settlement.

In Sochi, Assad said he wanted to advance negotiations.

“We don’t want to look back and we are ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement,” Assad said in translated comments.

RIYADH SUMMIT

Wednesday’s summit comes ahead of parallel UN-led talks in Geneva set for November 28.

Meanwhile Syrian opposition figures gathered in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in a bid to form an overhauled delegation to peace talks that analysts expect will be more willing to compromise on key demands.

Russia, Iran and Turkey’s past negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana that brought together the representatives of the opposition and the regime led to four so-called “de-escalation zones” that produced a drop in violence.

But fighting and brutal bombardments continued.