Russia's Vladimir Putin hosted the presidents of Turkey and Iran to discuss Syria on Wednesday, launching a major diplomatic push.
The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey entrusted the foreign ministries, as well as the security services and the defence ministries of the three states to elaborate the details and dates of the "Syrian National Dialogue Congress" in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Such a meeting between representatives of Syrian state and the "opposition" should happen soon, Putin said, having agreed the move at a much-touted summit with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Syria's leadership is committed to the peace process, constitutional reform and free elections, Putin said after the trilateral meeting. The three presidents agreed to step up efforts to finish off terrorist groups in Syria, he said.
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"As the guarantor states, Russia, Iran and Turkey continue to work closely on strengthening the ceasefire, on the steady functioning of de-escalation, on increasing trust between conflicting parties. In this regard, we outlined the initial steps for the revitalization of inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue on the basis of Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council," Putin said.
"I note with satisfaction that the presidents of Iran [Hassan Rouhani] and Turkey [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] supported the initiative to convene an all-Syrian forum - the National Dialogue Congress. We agreed to hold this important event at an appropriate level, to ensure participation of wide segments of Syrian society in it," Putin added.
"I will stress again that the fate of Syria must be determined by the Syrians themselves – both by supporters of the current government, and the opposition," Putin stated.
The date and precise list of invitees, however, remains to be decided.
A joint statement released by the three heads of state after their talks declared that the countries' collaborative efforts in the 11 months since the establishment of the ceasefire regime in late December 2016 have helped to secure a "breakthrough" in "bringing closer the elimination of [Islamic State], the Nusra Front and all other terrorist organizations as designated by the United Nations Security Council." The countries vowed to continue their cooperation until the terrorists are completely defeated.
'LEADERS DISCUSSED KURDS' INCLUSION IN THE CONGRESS'
Turkish President Erdoğan, speaking after Wednesday's talks with Putin and Rouhani, said they agreed to help support a full-scale political process in Syria. Erdoğan had fumed at the prospect of inviting Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) fighting in northern Syria, saying "we cannot consider a terrorist gang with blood on their hands as a legitimate actor."
Kurds' participation in the Syrian national dialogue was discussed at the leaders meeting Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Answering a question on whether any decision has been made, Peskov said the "there must be an inclusive [participation]."
Putin, however, said the congress would be a "stimulus" for activating U.N. peace talks in Geneva, which have stalled despite numerous rounds. He added that there was a "real chance" to end Syria's war.
ASSAD: 'WE ARE READY FOR DIALOGUE'
The Syrian government appeared to endorse Putin's call for a congress of the Syrian state and "opposition" figures, with a foreign ministry source telling the country's SANA news agency that it "welcomes the closing statement". Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meeting with Putin earlier this week in Sochi, 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.
U.N. peace talks mediator Staffan de Mistura said he would travel to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian officials ahead of the new round of UN-brokered peace talks set to open in Geneva next Tuesday.
"I'm always optimistic... especially in this moment," he said.
Representatives of extremist groups in Syria, meeting in Saudi Arabia to seek a unified position ahead of peace talks, decided to stick to their demand that Assad leaves power, Al Arabiya television reported.
De Mistura, the host of the formal peace process in Geneva, told the opposition groups at the Riyadh meeting they needed to have the "hard discussions" necessary to reach a "common line".