In November, regional and world powers renewed efforts to end the six-year conflict in Syria and discussed ways to combat ISIS and other terrorist organizations. A flurry of meetings and phone calls came just days after ISIS lost its last stronghold in Syria, Abu Kamal. The following is a rundown of the latest diplomatic efforts, including a Russia-Iran-Turkey summit.
On November 19, the Iranian, Russian and Turkish foreign ministers met in southern Turkey for closed-door talks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the talks were “very useful” and that the three countries “reached agreement on all the key issues,” but did not elaborate.
On November 20, Syrian President Bashar al Assad visited the Russian resort city of Sochi, where he met with President Vladimir Putin. Russia has been a key backer of the regime and has been deploying its own forces in Syria since 2015. The three-hour meeting was unannounced and not publicized until the following morning. It seemed to be scheduled so that Putin and Assad could confer ahead of a summit with Turkey and Iranian leaders scheduled in Sochi two days later.
The two leaders reportedly discussed new peace initiatives. “I passed on to (Putin) and all Russian people our greetings and gratitude for all of the efforts that Russia made to save our country,” Assad said in televised remarks. “We count on Russia’s support to keep foreign players from interfering into the political process.” Assad has only traveled outside his own country twice since the conflict began in March 2011, both times to Russia.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the leaders discussed potential political settlements, but emphasized that “only the Syrian people could determine Assad’s role.” Chairman of Russia’s State Duma International Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, gave positive summary of the meeting to reporters the following day. "One can say that the meeting between the Russian and Syrian presidents was a breakthrough. It virtually dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s regarding the Syrian settlement issue in the context of the war against international terrorism,” he said.
On November 21, Putin spoke with President Donald Trump for more than an hour. Both leaders “stressed the importance of implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, and supporting the U.N.-led Geneva Process to peacefully resolve the Syrian civil war, end the humanitarian crisis, allow displaced Syrians to return home, and ensure the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens,” according a White House readout.
Putin also called Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to brief them on the Russia-Iran-Turkey summit. Military chiefs from the three nations met in Sochi ahead of the summit to discuss ways coordinating their efforts to destroy ISIS remnants and al Qaeda affiliates.
On November 22, Putin met with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. "There is a real chance to put an end to this years-long civil war," Putin said at the beginning of the summit. Iran, like Russia, has provided critical military support to Syria. Turkey, however, has supported opposition groups. Yet the three powers successfully worked to establish four “de-escalation zones” in Syria earlier in 2017. They intended to help prepare conditions on the ground for a political settlement.
“We are very pleased that the three countries, while emphasizing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence and unity of Syria, are committed to working closely to bring about peace and stability in Syria,” Rouhani told Putin and Erdogan. The following is a video from the meeting.
After the session, Putin said the three leaders agreed to bolster efforts to finish off “terrorist” groups in Syria. The presidents also committed to having their diplomats, security and defense institutions to work on finalizing the composition and date of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. Russia has invited some 33 delegations of various Syrian political groups to attend the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in early December to discuss drafting a new constitution and holding U.N.-monitored elections. A video of the press conference is below.
Joint Statement by the Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey
Mr Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, M. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of the Republic of Turkey, attended a tripartite summit on 22 November 2017 in Sochi, and emphasised their firm will to continue active cooperation between the three countries of Iran, Russia and Turkey in order to maintain peace and stability in Syria, as envisaged by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.
The Presidents expressed their satisfaction with the current trilateral coordination to maintain and strengthen the ceasefire in Syria, guaranteed by Iran, Russia and Turkey.
The presidents expressed that after years of international efforts set by the UN Security Council to defeat the terrorist groups in Syria, the achievements of the 11 months after the establishment of the ceasefire regime on December 29, 2016 helped to destroy ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organisations designated by the United Nations Security Council. They also agreed that Iran, Russia and Turkey would continue to work together until the final defeat of these groups.
The Presidents stressed that the establishment of tension-reduction zones in Syria through the Astana process has been very effective, and has significantly contributed to reducing violence, alleviating human suffering, limiting refugee status and initiating efforts to secure conditions for the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The Presidents acknowledged that the Astana framework and its achievements have become an effective tool for helping peace and stability in Syria.
They decided that Iran, Russia and Turkey would continue to coordinate their efforts to ensure progress in reducing violence and stopping its return. They agreed to help Syrians return unity to their country and a political solution to the crisis through a comprehensive, free, fair and transparent Syrian-Syrian process that leads to the draft a constitution with the support of Syrians and free and fair elections with participation all people in Syria under the proper supervision of the United Nations.
The heads of the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to Syria's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, and emphasised that under no circumstances should the tension-reduction zones mentioned above or any political initiative for resolving the Syrian crisis, undermine sovereignty, independence, unity and the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Presidents called on the representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic and the opposition groups that are committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, to have constructive attendance at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to be held in Sochi in the near future. They also agreed to actively contribute to the success of this congress. Iran, Russia and Turkey will consult and agree on the participants in this congress.
The Presidents stressed the need for quick, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid, as well as the need for confidence-building measures from the Syrian parties, including the release of detainees/abductees and the delivery of bodies, as well as the identification of the missing in order to create better conditions for the political process and durable ceasefire. They urged the members of the international community to support the process of reducing tension and stabilising in Syria, including by providing more assistance to the Syrian people, as well as facilitating demining, preservation of the historical heritage and reconstruction of basic infrastructure, including economic and social ones.
The Presidents expressed hope that progress in solving the Syrian crisis through cooperation between Iran, Russia and Turkey would have a positive impact on improving the overall conditions in the region and reduce the risk of ethnic and sectarian divisions.
The presidents decided to meet again if necessary.
The Presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey appreciated Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, for hosting the tripartite summit in Sochi.
—Nov. 22, 2017, via President Rouhani’s website
On the same day, Syrian opposition groups gathered in Riyadh to forge a unified position ahead of U.N.-backed peace talks slated for November 28. One of the goals was to elect new representatives to replace ten people who resigned ahead of the conference. High Negotiations Committee chief Riyad Hijab had stepped down earlier in the week.