ISTANBUL • The first summit on Syria to bring together the leaders of Germany, Russia, Turkey and France ended with a new appeal for a political solution to the country's seven-year war but sidestepped more contentious issues, including the future of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
A joint communique after talks in Istanbul last Saturday called for a committee to be established and convened in Geneva to review the national Constitution by the end of the year, as one of the first steps towards a negotiated end to a conflict that has killed more than half a million people.
"We had the opportunity to discuss what will be done in order to reach a political solution and achieve stability in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron joined the latest effort to break the deadlock in Syria, meeting in a new format to shore up a truce that is preventing further violence in the country's last rebel-held region.
France had been reluctant to commit to a meeting while Russia refused to consider a transition away from Mr Assad's rule, instead stressing the need for Europe to help pay for reconstruction once the war ends in Syria.
Russia and Turkey last month struck a truce to hold off an offensive by Mr Assad's forces on Idlib by setting up a demilitarised zone between rebels and pro-government forces. An assault threatened to trigger a fresh wave of refugees across Syria's border, directly affecting Turkey and Europe.
Mr Putin said Russia reserves the right to help Syria mount an operation in Idlib in case of armed provocations by militants in the area.
Asked if Mr Assad's future in Syria came up during the talks, Mr Putin said "no personalities were discussed", since that would be counterproductive to the peace process.
Although the summit appeared to produce few concrete results, it was still considered significant.
"The agreement to set up the constitutional committee by the year end is a small but concrete step forward," said Dr Elena Suponina, a Middle East scholar in Moscow. "Nobody expected a major breakthrough, but the new format of talks is already a breakthrough in itself."