Russia, Turkey discuss broader Syria cease-fire
BEIRUT | Turkey and Russia are discussing a broader Syrian cease-fire after brokering the deal that evacuated rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syrian opposition factions said Wednesday, but a number of rebel groups say they won’t agree to anything until they get more details.
All previous attempts at enforcing a nationwide cease-fire in Syria, including several involving the United States, have failed. The recent warming of ties between Russia and Turkey, who provide crucial support to opposing sides of the war, may prove to be a game changer, but the challenges are immense.
The foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran met in Moscow last week for talks on Syria that pointedly included no Syrians, indicating they prefer to pursue a grand bargain among great powers with stakes in the conflict rather than a domestic settlement between the government and the opposition.
An official with one of the factions confirmed that Russian and Turkish officials were debating a cease-fire proposal that would encompass the whole of Syria. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.
Rebels have opposed previous proposals that would allow the government of President Bashar Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow, to continue its offensives around the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said later Wednesday that its embassy in the Syrian capital was hit by mortar fire, blaming the attack on “extremists” opposed to a peaceful settlement. It said a mortar round landed in the embassy courtyard without exploding, and another fell in the vicinity.
Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said Wednesday morning that Ankara and Moscow had reached an agreement, and Turkish media reports quoted Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying that a lasting cease-fire and political solution in Syria are “close.” But no details were announced, and there was no confirmation from state officials.
Yasin Aktay, the spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said the government is pushing for a cease-fire to be in place “as we enter 2017.”
The Syrian opposition official said factions were holding vigorous discussions over the possibilities, while an official with a different group said the proposal has not been formally presented to the opposition.
“It is difficult to accept or refuse the matter before we look at the details, of course,” said the official.
The Anadolu report said the cease-fire would exclude terrorist organizations, without elaborating on which groups would be left out. It said peace talks in Kazakhstan would proceed under Russia and Turkey’s leadership if the cease-fire holds, with the two acting as “guarantors” of any deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman confirmed Russia and Turkey were in “constant contact” to prepare for planned Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan, but did not comment about the possibility of a cease-fire.
Mosayyeb Naimi, a Tehran-based political analyst, said it was unclear whether Turkey could corral Syria’s fractured opposition into accepting a deal.
“Turkey’s ability to convince armed groups to accept the cease-fire is unknown, particularly because Turkey is involved in conflict with some of those groups,” he said. Mr. Naimi added that although the Russians have made initial agreements with Ankara, they may be waiting for President-elect Donald Trump to take office to discuss the U.S. role in the cease-fire process.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the United Nations envoy for Syria has also promised to help negotiate a cease-fire in Syria and assist with the proposed Astana peace talks. The ministry said in a statement that Staffan de Mistura welcomed the results of the talks between Russia, Turkey and Iran in a phone call Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.