Putin and Erdogan push for Syria talks without U.S. or U.N.

 Reuters International

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2016. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS


By Andrew Osborn and Nick Tattersall

MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said he and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan are working to organise a new series of Syrian peace talks without the involvement of the United States or the United Nations.

In a snub to Washington, Putin made clear on Friday that the initiative was the sole preserve of Moscow and Turkey and that the peace talks, if they happened, would be in addition to intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva.

“The next step is to reach an agreement on a total ceasefire across the whole of Syria,” Putin said in Tokyo. “We are conducting very active negotiations with representatives of the armed opposition, brokered by Turkey.”

Putin, who has leveraged Russia’s role in Syria to boost his diplomatic muscle, said the talks proposal was being put to the Syrian government and the opposition. Kazakhstan, the proposed venue, is a Russian ally, and Putin said the talks could take place in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

The surprise move underlines the growing strength of Moscow’s rapprochement with Ankara, with which it fell out last year over the shooting down of a Russian plane, and reflects Russia’s desire to cement its growing influence in the Middle East and more widely.

It also shows how fed up Russia is with what it sees as long and pointless talks with the Obama administration over Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week dismissed those talks as “fruitless sitting around” and said Ankara might prove a more effective partner on Syria.

Turkey, which wants to boost its global sway too, is also deeply frustrated by U.S. policy in Syria, particularly Washington’s support for Kurdish militia fighters it sees as a hostile force, and by what it views as Barack Obama’s failure to give enough support to the rebels.

Putin played down the idea that the talks would sideline or overshadow similar talks brokered by the United Nations that have been held intermittently in Geneva.

“It won’t compete with the Geneva talks, but will complement them. Wherever the conflicting sides meet, in my view it is the right thing to do to try to find a political solution,” he said.

The initiative is unlikely to go down well with U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura however. He told reporters in Paris on Thursday that it was time for all sides to return to the table, but the United Nations would have to broker any talks for them to have legitimacy.


Russia still hopes it can co-operate on Syria with the United States and join forces with Washington against Islamic State once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

But Trump will not be inaugurated until Jan. 20, leaving a power vacuum, and is likely in any case to need some time to formulate foreign policy.



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