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Presidents of Russia, Turkey, Iran agree on forming Syrian Constitutional Committee

The Fifth Tripartite Summit of Iran, Russia and Turkey, focusing on Syria, was held in Turkey’s Ankara on Monday
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (L-R) after a joint press conference following the 5th trilateral summit to discuss prospects for Syrian peace process Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (L-R) after a joint press conference following the 5th trilateral summit to discuss prospects for Syrian peace process
© Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

MOSCOW, September 17. /TASS/. During their trilateral summit in Ankara on Monday, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran came up with a series of important agreements, including on assisting the soonest launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters after the meeting that the list of constitutional committee members "has been fully agreed, with participation of the [Astana process] guarantor nations." "Now it is necessary to ensure that the constitutional committee begins its work in Geneva as soon as possible," he added.

The participants of the summit stressed the importance of continuing the struggle against terrorist groups still active on Syria’s soil. At the same time, they pointed out that there had been no alternative to political and diplomatic settlement of the Syrian conflict and spoke in favor of stepping up international humanitarian aid to that country.

The Fifth Tripartite Summit of Iran, Russia and Turkey, focusing on Syria, was held in Turkey’s Ankara on Monday. "Describing it as "a very productive and successful event", the three leaders agreed to hold the next meeting in this format in Tehran.

The leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey gathered for their first summit on Syria in Russia’s Sochi in November 2017. More trilateral meetings on Syrian settlement were held in Ankara in April 2018, in Teheran in September 2018, and in Sochi in February 2019.

For unity of Syria

In a joint statement adopted on the outcomes of the summit, its participants reiterated their firm commitment to sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. The presidents stressed that those principles must be observed by all sides and no one is permitted to take any action undermining them.

The three leaders also discussed the situation in northeastern Syria, saying that stability and security in this region would be possible only if sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country is respected. They agreed to coordinate their actions to that aim.

In that regard, Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts, including illegitimate initiatives on self-governance.

"We all stand for Syria’s territorial integrity and insist that once problems of security and counter-terrorism are resolved, Syria’s territorial integrity will be fully restored. It concerns the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria’s territory, too," Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the meeting.

The presidents of the three states welcomed Lebanon and Iraq as new observers of the Astana process on Syrian settlement.

The joint statement of the three leaders also condemns Israel’s air strikes on Syria, which fuel tensions in the region, "destabilize the situation and violate the territorial integrity of the country."

Lists agreed

According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the participants of the summit managed "to overcome differences regarding the issue of forming the Constitutional Committee of Syria."

"It was decided to start the work to form the committee without delay," he said. "The process of establishing the committee and preparing mechanisms of its work will be held in coordination with the UN."

According to the Russian president, its was too early to speak about exact dates for the committee to begin its work, but it should be launched as soon as possible.

"We assume think that the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee will play a decisive role in normalizing the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic," the Russian leader said. "We have talked about it many times, constantly repeating that there is no other alternative to political process."

Putin noted that members of the Constitutional Committee must agree on their work procedure themselves.

"Under no circumstances can we allow the participants of this process, that is, Syrians themselves, to be tied hand and foot by outside forces. We have to create the conditions for their voluntary and creative work aimed at achieving a positive result," he said.

Situation in Idlib

The sides discussed further anti-terrorism efforts on the Syrian territory, paying special attention to the province of Idlib, where, according to Putin, "radical terrorist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda" (outlawed in Russia) have de-facto seized control."

According to a joint trilateral statement, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to take practical measures on the basis of previous agreements to protect the civilian population in line with the international humanitarian law.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified that this does not mean that Russia, Turkey and Iran were planning a joint military operation in Idlib.

Peskov explained that these steps envisage "raising the efficiency" of anti-terrorism efforts." "The thing is that a significant part of Idlib is under the control of terrorist groups recognized as such by the UN Security Council. The ceasefire does not cover terrorist organizations, the fight against them will continue," the spokesman said.

US role

Meanwhile, the Turkish leader said his country was ready to form a security zone in Syria east of the Euphrates River by itself, should it fail to come to terms with Washington "within two weeks."

"If in two weeks we are unable to reach an agreement with the USA, we will be forced to establish a security zone to the east of the Euphrates River in Syria by ourselves," Erdogan told reporters during the press conference on the outcomes of the Russia-Turkey-Iran trilateral summit on Syria.

The Turkish president also said that it is "unacceptable to support terrorist organizations under the guise of fighting terrorists" of the Islamic State organization (outlawed in Russia)," referring to Washington's support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Ankara considers SDF to be related to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, an organization outlawed in Turkey.

He added that the main threat to Syria currently is represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces. "The Daesh [Islamic State terrorist group, outlawed in Russia] threat is eliminated, now the main threat for Syria is represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Democratic Union," he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also criticized the United States during the joint news conference.

"As we all know, there are also terrorist groups east of the Euphrates River, in areas under the US control. We know who supplies weapons to all of them," he said.

"The United States is trying to divide Syria. They pursue harmful policies regarding the country and its people," he continued.

"It is of utmost importance that US forces leave the region and the Syrian government regain control over its entire territory, including in the country’s north and east of Euphrates," the Iranian leader added. "Last year, [Washington] promised to leave Syria, but it was all just empty words."

Meanwhile, the Russian president expressed hope the United States would eventually put its decision to withdraw troops from Syria into practice.

"As for American troops, they are present on Syria’s territory illegally. Everybody knows that," Putin said. "We will proceed from the assumption that US President Donald Trump’s decision on the withdrawal of American troops from Syria would be ultimately implemented in full."

US President Donald Trump announce his decision to withdraw all US soldiers from Syria as far back as December 2018. By now, nothing has been said about how many American troops are still present in Syria.

Rebuilding Syria

The Russian president placed a special emphasis on the need to rebuild Syria. In order to resolve Syria’s large-scale problems and restore social and economic infrastructure, cooperation with other states and international organizations would be necessary, Putin said.

"We have created the preconditions for Syria’s transition to peace-building. The level of violence in the country has reduced, the recovery of social and economic infrastructure objects has begun," Putin said. "However, the scale of the issues that the Syrian state faces is so large that in order to resolve them, it requires support from economically developed countries and international organizations."

Putin noted that international forces "must really be interested in returning the refugees to their homes, and not in using the refugees and displaced persons to achieve some political goals, namely in a possible future vote on key issues of the development of the Syrian Arab Republic." He reminded that Russia, supported by Turkey and Iran, does a lot to aid Syria in the humanitarian sphere.

According to the Russian leader, since June 2018, over 390,000 refugees and about 1.3 mln internally displaced persons have managed to return to their homes. "All of us must take all necessary measures to avoid any damage to the civilian population," Putin said. "Of course, we are concerned about the situation in northeast Syria, where IS sleeper cells are becoming increasingly active. We think that stable security in this part of Syria is only possible under control of its lawful government."

The Turkish president came forward with a proposal to build houses for refugees in the planned security zone in Syria.

"Building new homes for Syrians who had returned is possible. Turkey is ready to assume all responsibility in this matter. How long will they have to stay in tent camps?" Erdogan said at a joint news conference in Ankara.

According to Erdogan, Ankara wants to "build new homes for refugees within the territory spanning some 450 km from Syria’s west to east, starting from the [Turkish] border and up to 30 km deep into the Syrian territory.

The participants of the summit agreed to coordinate their initiatives on organizing international conferences to facilitate humanitarian assistance to Syria and the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.

Contacts will continue

The next summit of Russia, Iran and Turkey will take place in Tehran, the leaders of the three nations said in a joint statement.

Besides, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a joint news conference that the next expert meeting on Syrian settlement will be held in November in Kazakhstan’s Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana.

"The practice of organizing regular expert meetings between delegates from the [Astana process] guarantor nations, the Syrian parties and the United Nations and other regional observers will be continued. The next, 14th, round of such consultations will be held in Nur-Sultan in October," he said after his talks with the Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani.

The Russian leader noted he was satisfied with the results of Monday’s summit on Syria. "The fifth meeting of the heads of states parties to the Astana process for promoting Syrian settlement was quite productive and successful," Putin said.

He drew attention to the fact the "the joint statement reflects the commitment to further efforts in the interests of lasting and viable peace in Syria." "We insist that it can be reached only by political and diplomatic means in strict compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254," he stressed.

"As the guarantors of the Astana process, out three countries support Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. We see our top priority tasks in encouraging the intra-Syrian political dialogue," he said, adding that for these ends the practice of expert meetings would continue.