Rus­sia, Turkey dis­cuss broader Syria cease-fire

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY PHILIP ISSA AND SUZAN FRASER

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.

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