U.S. left out of trilateral talks for peace in Syria
Russia, Turkey, Iran share interest
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