Turkey will host a trilateral summit in Istanbul along with Russia and Iran to inject a new boost to efforts to resolve the protracted Syrian conflict that ravaged the country.
The announcement came from Turkey’s presidency amid an ongoing Turkish military offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish enclave of Afrin. The last peace initiative in Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi late last month brought an accord between the Syrian opposition and the government to enact a new constitution for a political settlement.
But both the opposition boycott and Turkey’s military operation left their marks on the summit, undercut the efforts for a more efficient and fruitful meeting.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian, Iranian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani will gather together as part of the meeting in Istanbul. A previous meeting of similar form took place in November in Sochi when three leaders met to discuss a path forward for the peace talks.
The international efforts have recently hit snags after the escalation of the regime assaults against rebel forces in Ghouta and Idlib province, spurring a furious reaction from Ankara.
The Turkish side claims that the renewed regime operations in Idlib represent a blatant violation of the de-escalation scheme that envisaged by Turkey, Russia and Iran in Astana in September to halt hostilities between Damascus and the rebel forces.
Turkey also harbors genuine fears of a new migration wave amid reports by the United Nations suggest that tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced, and many of them were moving toward the Turkish border.
The date of Istanbul summit has yet to be designated.
“The importance of joint Russia-Turkey-Iran work was emphasized and new contacts at different levels would be discussed,” a readout from the Turkish presidency said, according to AFP.
The cooperation between three countries faced the tough trial of rapidly shifting realities on the ground in Syria when a Turkish military convoy in Idlib reportedly came under fire from Iran-backed militias and Syrian regime forces this weekend.
A Russian warplane was hit by rebels in Idlib province on Tuesday. Moscow sought Turkey’s help to reach the site of the plane’s wreckage. The Turkish authorities also helped Russians retrieve the body of slain Russian pilot.
Although Russia partially and reluctantly assented to Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish militia in Afrin, Iranian President Rouhani called the operation “futile.” He also urged Turkey to halt its offensive.
On Jan. 20, Turkish forces launched the campaign to uproot People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Afrin, citing its ties to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group that waged a four-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for self-rule in southern Turkey.