Erdoğan evaluates Syria situation ahead of Putin meeting in South Africa
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a BRICS summit in South Africa and discuss Syria flashpoints, in particular the situation in Daraa in the country’s south and Idlib in the north.
“Developments in Syria, whether in Tal Rifaat or Manbij, are not going as desired. The only places [in Syria] that are going in the desired direction are Afrin, Jarablus and al-Bab,” Erdoğan said on July 25, speaking at a news conference in the capital Ankara prior to his visit to Johannesburg where he will attend the BRICS summit.
The president said events in Idlib, held by Syrian rebels, and Daraa, currently under a heavy offensive by the Syrian regime, will also be addressed during his meeting with Putin.
“The issue about Daraa is problematic. We will put this issue on our agenda again. There is also the issue of Idlib, which we will discuss, because in these places anything can happen at any time,” he said.
“What we want is that the Syrian people will be protected from these attacks and particularly the brutal attacks of some organizations in the region,” he said.
Last month, the Syrian regime — with Russian air support — launched a major military operation in Daraa, allowing it and its allies to establish control over most of Syria’s border with Jordan.
The fighting led to a major displacement crisis, with an estimated 350,000 civilians fleeing Daraa toward areas near the border.
The Kremlin said Erdoğan was due to meet Putin on July 26 on the sidelines of the annual BRICS summit.
Alongside Iran, Russia and Turkey have held talks under the Astana peace process launched last year and agreed to create four “de-escalation” zones, including Idlib, to pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire.
One of the critical topics of a phone conversation between Erdoğan and Putin was Idlib. The phone call came after the Syrian government raised its flag on July 12 over areas of Daraa in southwestern Syria that were in rebel hands for years.
“Erdoğan stressed that the targeting of civilians in Daraa was worrying and said that if the Damascus regime targeted Idlib in the same way, the essence of the Astana accord could be completely destroyed,” state-run Anadolu Agency quoted presidential sources as saying.
Erdoğan told Putin on July 14 that the avoidance of “negative developments” in Idlib was important in terms of encouraging rebel groups to attend a meeting in Astana planned for July 30-31, according to the source.
Pro-regime armed groups in Syria recently evacuated from two villages, Kafraya and Fuaa in Idlib province, within the framework of an agreement.
The villages held by rebel groups were the two last places hosting pro-regime groups.
Idlib became the only province controlled entirely by rebels, raising concerns that a possible attack by the Syrian regime could trigger a huge migration north, to Turkey.
Erdoğan against US sanctions on Iran
Commenting on the U.S. sanctions on Iran, Erdoğan said he wasn’t expecting the U.S. to take “any wrong steps” on the issue.
The Turkish president, however, stood against severing economic ties with Iran as the United States readies for sanctions. Erdoğan said it goes against the independence of states to cut ties with its “neighbor and strategic partner” because the U.S. is demanding it. “Who will heat up my country throughout the winter?” he asked.
“Mr. President, so far, has displayed a good stance on these issues. I believe that this attitude will continue,” Erdoğan said.
President Donald Trump announced in May that he would pull out of a 2015 agreement over Iran’s nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions.