Turkey, Russia, Germany, France to meet over Idlib

Turkey, Russia, Germany, France to meet over Idlib

Sevil Erkuş – ANKARA
Turkey, Russia, Germany, France to meet over Idlib

Officials from Turkey, Russia, France and Germany will meet in Istanbul on Sept. 14 over Syria in a bid to seek political settlement in the war-torn country as an imminent offensive into the last rebel-held enclave of Idlib looms.

“We aim to prevent clashes in Idlib and declare a ceasefire here,” a Turkish diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous due to restrictions on speaking to the media, has told Hürriyet Daily News, elaborating on the agenda of the Sept. 14 meeting.

“The international community should put in efforts for a ceasefire in Idlib,” the diplomat noted. Turkey will be represented in the four-way meeting by presidential advisor İbrahim Kalın. French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy adviser Philippe Étienne, Russian presidential advisor Yuri Ushakov and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign policy adviser Jan Hecker will be the other participants.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held phone conversations with his German, French and U.S. counterparts on Sept. 12. The minister discussed the issue of Idlib with his counterparts, the diplomat said. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also held a phone conversation with his French counterpart Florence Parly on Sept. 13 as well.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously said the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France would meet in Istanbul on Sept. 7, but the initial meeting was held by bureaucrats. A western diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous due to restrictions on speaking to the media, in Ankara told Hürriyet Daily News that holding the four-way leaders’ summit will be decided in the Sept. 14 meeting. Germany and France are careful not to give off an impression that they were taking sides in the Russia-U.S. strife regarding the issue of Syria, the diplomat said and noted that they don’t want the meeting to turn into an “anti-Trump” event.

The meeting is part of international demarche to converge efforts conducted by actors of the Astana process and the Western countries involved in the Syrian crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier said that the conflict in Syria had escalated to an enormous scale and cannot be settled without the participation of Russia, Turkey, Iran, Europe and other regional powers.

In another statement, Merkel said a four-way summit “could make sense” and added, “It must be well prepared, that’s why no date has been set yet.”

“But we will arrange for advisors to hold a preparatory meeting and then decide whether it makes sense to hold such a meeting together,” the German chancellor stated.

“I have also discussed Syria during my phone conversation with Mr. Erdoğan since we have a very, very tense situation in Idlib.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned on Sept. 11 that a Syrian government offensive on Idlib could scatter thousands of foreign extremists abroad, posing a security threat to the West.

“There are in all likelihood dozens of French fighters from both Al-Qaeda and ISIL,” in Idlib, Le Drian told France’s BFMTV, warning that there were “also many terrorists from other nations who could scatter” in the event of a joint Syrian-Russian offensive, posing “risks for our security.

Le Drian said there was “still time to guard against this scenario” and expressed support for Turkey “in its efforts to keep the population safe, particularly the civilian population.”

Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attended a leaders’ summit on Syria in early September as part of guarantors in the Astana process, a deal which aimed for de-escalation zones in Syria in order to maintain a ceasefire. However, Idlib, one of the de-escalation zones where many opposition groups including radical ones are huddled, has been at the heart of concerns of the international community since the Syrian regime and Russia intensified military attacks on the grounds of eliminating terrorist groups there.

Turkey has intensified contacts with Russia and Iran in recent days amid escalating tension over the Syrian regime’s impending military operation on Idlib. Ankara also calls on Western countries to initiate efforts to solve the Idlib problem, saying that any possible refugee influx would not only pose a threat to Turkey but also to European countries since there are foreign militants among these groups as well.

Turkey urges Russia and Iran to separate moderate and radical groups in the rebel-stronghold, warning against a massive military offensive which could cause a bloodbath in the enclave where 3.5 million people live.

Syrian Civil War, Jean Yves Le Drian,