Regional actors in intense talks on Idlib as Russia calls for four-way talks
Regional and global actors involved in the Syrian civil war are in intense diplomacy over an imminent military offensive by the Syrian regime on the last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib ahead of a three-way key summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran.
At the center of the intensive talks are Turkey’s efforts to prevent a large-scale operation into Idlib, where 3.5 million people live. Turkey has warned both Russia and Iran that a massive offensive that fails to separate terrorists from civilians could lead to a new humanitarian catastrophe in the war-torn country.
Ankara says it attaches enormous importance to the upcoming summit to be held by the three guarantor countries in Tehran on Sept. 7.
Russia’s ambassador to Ankara Aleksey Yerkhov has agreed with Ankara on the upcoming summit. He said the summit in the Iranian capital where the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran will meet is the “best opportunity” to find a solution to the Syria problem.
“The summit in Tehran offers a very good opportunity to resolve the Syrian issue,” Yerkhov told reporters in the Turkish Parliament after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Committee head Volkan Bozkır on Sept. 5.
The ambassador said Turkish and Russian officials were in close contact to discuss 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 a Turkish-Russian working group’s talks was conducted in the Turkish capital between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4. It added that the group would continue the talks in the coming period.
‘Turkey, US on the same page’
As part of the ongoing talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a phone conversation with United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo upon the latter’s request and on the same day U.S.’s Syria special representative James Jeffrey was in Ankara for talks on Syria.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said both Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu “agreed any [Bashar al-] Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria.” In Ankara, Jeffrey reiterated the U.S. position that 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.
Russia pounds Idlib
Meanwhile, Russia resumed air strikes on the western parts of Idlib on Sept. 4.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Sept. 5 that its war planes had bombed targets in Idlib the previous day, Russian news agencies reported.
The ministry was cited as saying that the air strikes had only targeted al-Nusra militants and had not struck civilian areas. The war planes had taken off from Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Latakia in Syria’s west, it said.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine people were killed in the air strikes. According to monitoring groups, five children from the same family were killed.
UN calls for dialogue between Russian, Turkish leaders
As tension mounts in the region, U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called on the leaders of Russia and Turkey to establish dialogue to find a solution for Idlib.
“To President [Vladimir] Putin and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, you are the ones who actually were able to talk to each other, make a telephone call, organize a formula that allow the end of that horrible peril not to be the worst,” de Mistura said at a news conference at the U.N. office in Geneva.
Russia proposes four-way talks
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Sept. 5 that Moscow was keen to see four-way talks with Turkey, France and Germany take place to discuss the Syrian conflict.
Ushakov said that, as far as he knows, all sides have agreed to hold the talks in Istanbul and advisers have been tasked with working out an appropriate date.