U.S. left out of tri­lat­eral talks for peace in Syria

Rus­sia, Turkey, Iran share in­ter­est

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV AND ZEINA KARAM

MOSCOW | Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran cast them­selves as the es­sen­tial deal-mak­ers in Syria on Tues­day, say­ing at a tri­lat­eral meet­ing in Moscow that their co­op­er­a­tion could pave the way for a set­tle­ment of the coun­try’s bru­tal civil war.

The meet­ing of foreign and de­fense min­is­ters of the three na­tions that pre­vi­ously backed the op­pos­ing sides in the nearly six-year con­flict re­flected a shared in­ter­est in bro­ker­ing a com­pro­mise. The talks come a day after the killing of the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Turkey, but Moscow and Ankara vowed that the at­tack wouldn’t hurt their rap­proche­ment.

Rus­sian Foreign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov said after the talks that the three na­tions be­lieve their ef­forts could over­come the “stag­na­tion” in the Syr­ian peace process. The ac­cord also would leave the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on the out­side look­ing in as a di­plo­matic deal is struck.

“The for­mat you see to­day is the most ef­fi­cient one,” Mr. Lavrov said. “It’s not an at­tempt to cast a shadow on the ef­forts taken by our other part­ners; it’s just stat­ing the facts.”

He cited the evac­u­a­tions of civil­ians and rebels from Aleppo, bro­kered by Moscow and Ankara, as proof of the ef­fi­ciency of the tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion. “More than any oth­ers, our states are ready to help the set­tle­ment with real deeds and not just words,” he said.

Mr. Lavrov said it would take one or two days to com­plete the evac­u­a­tions.

Turk­ish Foreign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said 37,500 peo­ple had been evac­u­ated from Aleppo and cred­ited Rus­sia with mak­ing it pos­si­ble.

Mr. Cavu­soglu said they talked about es­tab­lish­ing a cease-fire across the en­tire ter­ri­tory of Syria, adding that the Is­lamic State group and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham Front, would be ex­cluded from the deal.

The three min­is­ters tip­toed around their dif­fer­ences. Mr. Lavrov noted the need for all par­ties to stop spon­sor­ing “ter­ror­ists,” while Mr. Cavu­soglu said that pol­icy should also ap­ply to Hezbol­lah, a close ally of both Tehran and Da­m­as­cus.

Ira­nian Foreign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif replied with a smile that the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has branded the Is­lamic State group and Fatah al-Sham Front ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, while opin­ions about other groups vary.

The min­is­ters said in their state­ments that the three na­tions are ready to act as guar­an­tors of a cease-fire deal that would al­low the de­liv­er­ies of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and free travel of civil­ians, and would in­vite other na­tions that have in­flu­ence with Syr­ian groups to help reach the agree­ment.

The United States was no­tably ab­sent from the meet­ing, al­though Mr. Lavrov had a phone call with Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry later Tues­day, in­form­ing him about the re­sults of the tri­lat­eral talks.

The meet­ing ap­pears to sig­nal that the for­mer ri­vals may have reached a deal on di­vid­ing spheres of in­flu­ence in Syria in which Turkey would cut sup­port for Mr. As­sad’s foes in ex­change for free­dom of ac­tion in the ar­eas along its bor­der. Turkey’s pri­or­ity is to pre­vent Syria’s Kurds from merg­ing ar­eas un­der their con­trol and link­ing up with Turkey’s own restive Kur­dish mi­nor­ity.

“I launch a solemn ap­peal to the Con­golese peo­ple to not rec­og­nize the … il­le­gal and il­le­git­i­mate au­thor­ity of Joseph Ka­bila and to peace­fully re­sist [his] coup d’etat.”

— Con­golese op­po­si­tion party leader Eti­enne Tshisekedi, in a YouTube post­ing Tues­day, after gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces killed at least three and ar­rested scores more in protests of Pres­i­dent Ka­bila’s re­fusal to step down when his term of­fi­cially ended at mid­night Mon­day

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