Turkish, Russian defense ministers meet in Sochi over Idlib agreement

Turkish, Russian defense ministers meet in Sochi over Idlib agreement

MOSCOW
Turkish, Russian defense ministers meet in Sochi over Idlib agreement

The Turkish defense minister and intelligence chief visited Russia’s coastal city of Sochi on Nov. 20 for high-level talks with officials on Syria’s Idlib.

Turkish Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu examined the actions needed to be performed to “close all the remaining issues in Idlib,” said a Russian Defense Ministry statement.     

“The current situation in Syria requires our immediate solution and discussion of the pending issues,” it said.     

Reuters quoted the Russian minister as telling Akar that Moscow and Ankara needed to take swift decisions to support a demilitarized zone in Idlib.

Turkey’s head of National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Hakan Fidan was also present at the meeting.     

On Sept. 17, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib.

UN in final push for Syria constitutional committee
UN in final push for Syria constitutional committee

Ankara and Moscow also signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.     

Under the deal, opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas in  which they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing renewed fighting.      

Separately, the U.N. envoy for Syria signaled on Nov. 19 that he was ready to abandon efforts to set up a committee on drafting a post-war constitution if no deal is reached by the end of December.

The planned constitutional committee agreed at a Russia-hosted conference in January has run into objections from the Syrian government over allowing religious leaders, representatives from women’s groups and independent experts to take part.

The centerpiece of U.N. peace efforts in Syria, the committee would be tasked with negotiating a new post-war constitution that would pave the way to elections aimed at turning the page on seven years of devastating war.

“We are in the last days of the attempts to implement the constitutional committee,” envoy Staffan de Mistura told a Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis.

“We may have to conclude that [it] may not be possible to form a constitutional committee, credible and inclusive, at this stage,” said the envoy, speaking by videoconference from Geneva.

“In such an unfortunate case, I will certainly be ready to explain to the council why,” he warned.

De Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been the U.N.’s peace envoy since July 2014, was due to step down at the end of November, but he agreed to stay on for an extra month to lead a final push.

EU to keep working with Turkey on Syria
EU to keep working with Turkey on Syria

The United Nations is still hoping to send invitations to committee members by mid-December and convene a first meeting before December 31, said the envoy.

The leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France have called for the committee to be formed by the end of the year.

Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been appointed to become the fourth U.N. envoy for Syria since the war began in 2011.

Russia and Iran, which are providing crucial military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey will meet next week in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Hulusi Akar, Russia, Sochi agreement, Idlib