Rus­sia, Turkey dis­cuss US with­drawal from Syria


Top Rus­sian and Turk­ish min­is­ters agreed dur­ing a meet­ing in Mos­cow on Sat­ur­day to main­tain co­op­er­a­tion in north­ern Syria as U.S. forces pre­pare to with­draw and Turkey threat­ens to launch a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion against U.S.-backed Kur­dish forces con­trol­ling nearly a third of the coun­try.

Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu said be­fore the talks be­gan that they would fo­cus on the sit­u­a­tion in and around Idlib, as well as “what can and should be done” when the U.S. with­draws from Syria.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov told re­porters that much of the dis­cus­sion fo­cused on the pend­ing U.S. with­drawal, and that Rus­sia and Turkey man­aged to agree on co­or­di­nat­ing their steps in Syria “to ul­ti­mately erad­i­cate the ter­ror­ist threat.”

Turkey’s of­fi­cial Anadolu news agency said the meet­ing lasted an hour and a half. Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said Rus­sia and Turkey have a “shared will on clean­ing Syria from all ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tions,” and added Turkey would con­tinue its “close co­op­er­a­tion” with Rus­sia and Iran in Syria and the re­gion.

The Syr­ian mil­i­tary said it en­tered the Kur­dish strong­hold of Man­bij on Fri­day as part of an ap­par­ent agree­ment be­tween the two sides. The Kurds are look­ing for new al­lies to pro­tect against a threat­ened Turk­ish of­fen­sive as U.S. forces pre­pare to leave.

With Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise de­ci­sion to with­draw troops ear­lier this month, Turkey an­nounced it will hold off on a threat­ened of­fen­sive against Kur­dish mil­i­tants that it con­sid­ers ter­ror­ists. It has, how­ever, con­tin­ued amass­ing troops at the bor­der as it mon­i­tors the sit­u­a­tion.

The move­ments fol­low days of equip­ment trans­fers across the bor­der into a Turk­ish-held area of north­ern Syria near Man­bij. Turk­ish-backed Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fighters said they have started mov­ing along with Turk­ish troops to front-line po­si­tions near the town as a show of readi­ness.

A state­ment re­leased by the rebels said they are ready to “be­gin mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to lib­er­ate the city in re­sponse to calls by our peo­ple in the city of Man­bij.”

Turk­ish news agency IHA showed video of at least 50 tanks ar­riv­ing at a com­mand post in San­li­urfa prov­ince early Sat­ur­day. The prov­ince bor­ders Kur­dish-held ar­eas east of the Euphrates river in Syria.

The Rus­sian side was rep­re­sented in Sat­ur­day’s talks by For­eign Min­is­ter Lavrov, De­fense Min­is­ter Shoigu, and Krem­lin for­eign af­fairs aide Yuri Ushakov. The Turk­ish del­e­ga­tion in­cludes For­eign Min­is­ter Cavu­soglu, pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, in­tel­li­gence chief Hakan Fi­dan and De­fense Min­is­ter Hu­lusi Akar.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters in Mos­cow on Sat­ur­day that, in ad­di­tion to the for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters of each coun­try, the meet­ing was at­tended by in­tel­li­gence chiefs from both sides.

Pres­i­dents Vladimir Putin and Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan did not at­tend the meet­ing. Peskov said the two would later sched­ule a sep­a­rate meet­ing.

In Syria, op­po­si­tion ac­tivists said the head of a lo­cal coun­cil al­lied with the Kurds was as­sas­si­nated in the eastern prov­ince of Deir el-Zour. The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said Mar­wan Fatih, head of the Deir el-Zour Coun­cil, was shot dead in the prov­ince by un­known as­sailants. The ac­tivist col­lec­tive DeirEz­zor24 said he was killed when a road­side bomb ex­ploded on the high­way link­ing the cities of Deir el-Zour and Has­sakeh in the north­east.

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