Russia agrees US should attend Syria talks: Turkey
GENEVA – Agence France-Presse
Russia has agreed that the United States should be involved in talks on Syria’s political future slated to take place in the Kazakh capital of Astana later this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Jan. 12.
“The United States should definitely be invited, and that is what we agreed with Russia,” Çavuşoğlu told journalists in Geneva after an international conference on Cyprus.
“Nobody can ignore the role of the United States. And this is a principled position of Turkey,” he added.
The talks in Astana are expected to take place on Jan. 23.
The Kremlin on Jan. 13, on the other hand, declined to confirm whether it would invite the U.S. to the Syria peace talks later this month after Washington was excluded from brokering a recent truce in the war-torn country.
Asked to comment on the Turkish statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I cannot say anything about this for now,” AFP reported.
Peskov nonetheless added that Russia was “interested in the broadest possible representation of the parties who have a bearing on the prospects of a political settlement in Syria.”
Russia and Turkey last month brokered a cease-fire in the war-torn country, but without the involvement of the U.S., a negotiator in previous cease-fires that had failed to hold.
The truce went into effect on Dec. 30, 2016, and has brought calm to much of Syria although fighting continues in some areas.
“We need to maintain the cease-fire,” Çavuşoğlu said in Geneva. “This is essential for the Astana talks.”
He said invitations for the talks were likely to be sent out next week, adding that Washington should be present.
“Nobody can ignore the role of the United States. And this is a principled position of Turkey,” he said. “The ones who did or who could contribute should be there, but not just to be in the family photo. You know what I mean.”
He said the aim of the talks is to reach a “political solution, which is the best solution.”
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed the hope that the new American presidential administration under Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20, could “also join the efforts so that we can work in the same direction harmoniously and collectively.”
Lavrov at the time did not say whether Washington would be invited to the negotiating table.
Rouhani, Erdoğan talk over phone
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, over the phone on Jan. 12.
“I hope that terror will be eliminated with the joint efforts of Turkey and Iran,” Doğan News Agency quoted Rouhani as saying to Erdoğan.
Talking about the Syrian cease-fire and the Astana talks, Rouhani said the terror organizations in the region were “our joint enemy,” adding that they aimed at fighting all of the terror organizations in the region.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 13, the Syrian army command said Israel fired rockets at a major military air base outside Damascus, warning Tel Aviv of repercussions of what it called a “flagrant” attack, Reuters reported.
The explosions were heard in the capital, and residents in the southwest suburbs saw a large plume of smoke rising from the area, while video footage downloaded on social media showed flames leaping from parts of Mezzah military airport’s compound.
Syrian state television quoted the army as saying several rockets were fired from an area near Lake Tiberias in northern Israel just after midnight which landed in the compound of the air base, used by President Bashar al-Assad’s elite Republican Guards.
“The Syrian army command and armed forces warn Israel of the repercussions of the flagrant attack and stresses its continued fight against [this] terrorism and [that it will] amputate the arms of the perpetrators,” the army command said in a statement.
On Jan. 12, a suicide bomber killed at least eight people in a rare attack on a high-security district of Damascus, a monitor said.
“Eight people died when a suicide bomber targeted Kafr Sousa” in the southwest of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.
“At least four of them were soldiers, including a colonel,” observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
State news agency SANA said at least seven people were killed when a “suicide terrorist” detonated an explosive belt close to a sports club there.
Footage from the scene of the attack broadcast on state television showed what appeared to be blast marks and blood splattered across a wall next to the wreckage of a car.
Such attacks are rare in Damascus, a stronghold of the regime of al-Assad which has been fighting rebels in Syria for nearly six years.