Erdoğan, Putin discuss Syria, Assad’s future in tête-à-tête

Erdoğan, Putin discuss Syria, Assad’s future in tête-à-tête

Serkan Demirtaş - ANTALYA
Erdoğan, Putin discuss Syria, Assad’s future in tête-à-tête

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk to each other as they pose for the media before their talks during the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

The leaders of Turkey and Russia discussed the future of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad’s fate following a Vienna agreement in a tête-à-tête late Nov. 15 on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in the southern resort of Antalya.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a roughly one-hour meeting at midnight as both men’s last activity of the first day of the G-20 Summit where they conducted separate talks with U.S. President Barack Obama earlier in the day. Although a large delegation accompanied Erdoğan in his meeting with Obama, the fact that he discussed Syria alone with Putin attracted attention.

According to presidential sources, Erdoğan and Putin were first accompanied by their foreign ministers and some aides to discuss bilateral issues. The pair agreed to hold an annual high-level cooperation council meeting in Moscow on Dec. 15 as a follow-up to their last year’s meeting in Ankara on Dec. 1. That meeting resulted in an initial agreement for the construction of a new pipeline from Russia to Europe via Turkey. However, there has been no further progress on the project.

Assad’s future discussed

According to information provided by the sources, Erdoğan and Putin elected to discuss Syria-related issues after their delegations left the meeting room. The two men discussed the possible consequences of the Vienna agreement and particularly the future of al-Assad.

Turkey foresees no future role for al-Assad in Syria’s future, alleging that he is responsible for the killing of more than 300,000 Syrians. Russia, contrastingly, believes the Syrian people alone should decide their future government. The Vienna agreement envisages a six-month negotiation period for the formation of an interim government and the holding of elections within 18 months but does leave the future of al-Assad vague.    

Leaders around the same table for Syria

Before the Erdoğan-Putin meeting, leaders of the world’s richest economies convened around the same table for a working dinner under the title of “Global Challenges: Terrorism and Refugee Crisis.”

According to sources familiar with Erdoğan’s speech at the venue, the Turkish president underlined Turkey’s commitment and determination in the fight against terror as a country that has been targeted by terror since the 1970s.  

Noting that Turkey shares a 911-kilometer border with Syria and a 384-kilometer frontier with Iraq, Erdoğan called on allies to intensify information and intelligence sharing and boost cooperation.

In reference to a disagreement on the categorization of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), Erdoğan urged leaders that the fact that organizations like the PYD, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are fighting each other does not alter the fact that they are all – at least in Turkey’s eyes – terrorist organizations. 

Turkey and the United States do not agree on the PYD’s role, as the latter believes the group is successfully fighting ISIL in northern Syria while Turkey rejects this idea.

All leaders reiterated that Islam should not be associated with terror even as Erdoğan said the political leaders in Islamic countries bore much responsibility in the present climate.

Burden-sharing important on refugee crisis

World leaders also discussed the growing refugee crisis, underlining the need to address the issue in unity, cooperation and solidarity. But while dealing with the growing refugee crisis, they noted that they should also deal with the root causes of migration as well.

The principle of responsibility and burden-sharing should also be imposed alongside efforts to develop measures to eradicate the root causes, G-20 leaders reaffirmed.

Erdoğan, for his part, informed leaders that Turkey was hosting around 2.5 million Syrian and Iraqis on its soil, noting that the country had spent the last five years dealing with the crisis.