Russia’s Ambassador to Ankara Aleksey Yerkhov has described the upcoming summit in Tehran with the participation of the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran as the “best opportunity” for resolving the Syrian problem amid concerns over a large-scale regime offensive into the rebel-held Idlib province.
“The summit in Tehran pledges a very good opportunity to resolve the Syrian issue,” Yerkhov told reporters at the Turkish Parliament after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Committee head Volkan Bozkır on Sept. 5.
The ambassador recalled that Turkish and Russian officials were in close contact for discussing developments in northern Syria.
The talks Yerkhov referred to were announced by the Turkish Defense Ministry on Sept. 5. It said the last phase of Turkey-Russia Working Group talks were conducted in the Turkish capital between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4. It added that the group would continue to be in talks in the coming period.
The Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents will meet in Tehran on Sept. 7 with the situation in the Idlib province to become the focal point of talks. Turkey is urging that a large scale operation into the province would lead to a humanitarian tragedy while Russia and Iran have expressed support for an offensive in order to eliminate jihadists.
Turkey right to be concerned over Idlib, we support Tehran summit, German FM Maas says
“Turkey is right in its concerns over Idlib, we support the Tehran summit and we are working together with Turkey to prevent escalation in Syria’s Idlib region,” the top diplomat said.
Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are scheduled to meet in Tehran on Friday for a trilateral summit on Syria.
Meanwhile Çavuşoğlu, commenting on the bombing of Idlib, said the move was wrong and such attacks should be stopped, adding that Ankara was going to push at Friday’s planned summit in Tehran for a decision to stop such attacks.
He said a common strategy was needed to eliminate radical groups in Idlib but the continuation of attacks could be disastrous.
“[The] regime’s desire to attack and capture Idlib is clear,” he added.
Çavuşoğlu said Russia and Iran are Assad regime’s guarantors and Turkey keeps contacts with these two countries.
He said Turkey did not bring radical groups to Idlib and questioned why those groups were brought to Idlib with their weapons from Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Homs.
“The plan was clear from the start. These groups will go there and then, by pretending the existence of those groups there, it [Assad regime] will attack to capture it,” he explained.
He added that Turkey and Germany’s position on Syria and other issues overlap.
Maas said those who will flee from Idlib should be helped. “We talked how we can help. Turkey is our important partner on this issue,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also warned that an offensive on Syria’s northwestern Idlib province by Bashar Assad’s regime forces would lead to a bloodbath for civilians and a humanitarian tragedy. Many other Turkish officials have also many times reiterated Turkey’s stance on the matter.
Russian warplanes on Tuesday pounded civilian and opposition targets in Idlib. Located near the Turkish border, Idlib is home to more than 3 million Syrians, many of whom fled from other cities following attacks by regime forces.
The Syrian regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive to the area, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.
Çavuşoğlu also said he and Maas discussed steps to improve and restore relations between Ankara and Berlin.
“We are making intense efforts with Germany to normalize and strengthen bilateral ties,” he said.
Maas’ trip to Turkey comes ahead of a joint meeting on Syria between Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, and also Erdoğan’s key visit to Berlin on Sept. 28-29.
Turkey and Germany have been in a normalization process for some time after the two countries were locked in heated debates and ultimatums for one-and-a-half years over a series of issues, including PKK and Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) terror groups’ presence in Germany.
Ankara’s relations with Berlin have been strained by PKK demonstrations and the presence of the terrorist organization’s seniors in the country, which Ankara labels as tolerance of terrorism.
US on same page as Turkey for diplomatic solution in Idlib
As United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey, also a former American ambassador to Ankara, concluded his trip to Turkey, the U.S. embassy on Tuesday reiterated its concern for a Syrian regime military offensive in Syria’s Idlib.
“A Syrian military offensive in Idlib will be an escalation of the Syrian conflict that will risk the lives of humanitarian workers and Syrian civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, imperil the prospects for a political settlement in Syria, fuel support for terrorism, and harm regional stability,” the U.S. mission in Turkey said on Twitter.
“U.S. Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey met with Turkish counterparts to discuss their new role and the underscore the importance of continued the U.S.-Turkey cooperation in resolving the Syrian conflict in a manner consistent with UNSCR 2254,” it added.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday met Jeffrey in Ankara.
Moreover, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Ankara Jeffrey Hovenier said Tuesday that Washington has the same concerns as Ankara.
On the other hand, Çavuşoğlu on Tuesday spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo via telephone, according to Turkish diplomatic sources.
The two ministers discussed bilateral issues, Syria’s Idlib and Manbij, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media. Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu “agreed that any Bashar [Assad] regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. She also said they are committed to addressing areas of common concern.