SOCHI, Russia: Vladimir Putin will meet with the presidents of Turkey and Iran Wednesday for a key summit aimed at resuscitating the peace process in Syria, two days after the Russian leader hosted surprise talks with Bashar al-Assad.
Ahead of the trilateral summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Putin on Tuesday discussed Syria with his US counterpart Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, among other leaders.
In a lengthy phone call both Putin and Trump spoke of the need for progress toward a peace settlement and stressed the need to ensure “the stability of a unified Syria,” the White House said.
The country is currently divided between forces loyal to Kremlin-allied strongman Assad, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and several jihadist groups and rebel units.
Multiple rounds of talks hosted by the UN have failed to bring an end to the six-year war, which has killed more than 330,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
Other initiatives including those spearheaded by Moscow have also failed to bear much fruit.
Encouraged by military successes of the Russian and Syrian forces on the ground, Putin is hoping to breathe new life in the stuttering negotiations.
The new diplomatic push comes as regime forces have gained the upper hand on the battlefield with Russia’s help, including recent wins against the Islamic State group and a fresh drive against rebels near Damascus.
‘Future belongs to Syrians’
Ahead of the talks, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stressed the need for Syria to determine its own fate and expressed hope the summit would help lay the foundation of the war-scarred country’s future.
“The future of Syria will not be in the hands of foreign forces. The future of Syria will not be in the hands of foreign powers,” Rouhani said on Wednesday. “The future of Syria belongs to the Syrian people.”
Moscow, Ankara and Tehran are cooperating with increasing intensity on ending the civil war, despite Turkey still officially being on an opposite side in the conflict from Russia and Iran.
Wednesday’s summit will take place ahead of parallel UN-led talks in Geneva set for November 28.
During their phone call on Tuesday, Putin told Trump that “the Syrian leader confirmed his commitment to the political process, (and) conducting constitutional reform and presidential and parliamentary elections.”
Putin stressed the “need to keep Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity intact,” the Kremlin said.
Putin also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but there was no mention of Assad’s future.
The Syrian president’s fate remains a stumbling block, preventing global players from reaching a peace settlement.
The meeting between Putin and Assad in Sochi was their first in two years, after the Syrian leader travelled to Moscow in 2015 to thank Putin for his decision to intervene in Syria, which analysts have said saved the regime.
“As for our joint work in the fight against terrorism in Syria, this military operation is coming to an end,” Putin said in comments released Tuesday.
“Thanks to the Russian army, Syria has been saved as a state. Much has been done to stabilise the situation in Syria,” Putin said.
Assad said he wanted to advance negotiations.
“We don’t want to look back and we are ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement,” Assad said in translated comments.