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Russia, Iran, Turkey ready to be deal-makers in Syria

Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press

Moscow — Russia, Turkey and Iran cast themselves as the essential deal-makers in Syria on Tuesday, saying at a trilateral meeting in Moscow that their cooperation could pave the way for a future settlement in Syria.

The meeting of foreign and defense ministers of the three nations that previously backed the opposing sides in the nearly six-year conflict reflected a shared interest in brokering a compromise.

The talks come a day after the killing of the Russian ambassador in Turkey, but Moscow and Ankara vowed that the attack wouldn’t hurt their rapprochement. Investigators from Turkey and Russia hunted for clues Tuesday as to who might have been behind the killing of Andrei Karlov.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the talks that the three nations believe their efforts could overcome the “stagnation” in the Syrian peace process.

“The format you see today is the most efficient one,” Lavrov said. “It’s not an attempt to cast a shadow on the efforts taken by our other partners, it’s just stating the facts.”

He cited the evacuation of civilians and rebels from Aleppo, brokered by Moscow and Ankara, as proof of the efficiency of the trilateral cooperation. “More than any others, our states are ready to help the settlement with real deeds and not just words,” he said.

Lavrov added that it would take one or two days to complete the evacuations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said 37,500 people had been evacuated from Aleppo, crediting Russia with making it possible.

Cavusoglu said they talked about establishing a cease-fire across the entire territory of Syria, adding that the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham Front, would be excluded from the deal.

The three ministers carefully tip-toed around their differences.

The ministers said in their statements that the three nations are ready to act as guarantors of a cease-fire deal that would also allow the deliveries of humanitarian assistance and free travel of civilians, inviting other nations which have influence with Syrian groups to help reach the agreement.

The United States was notably absent from the meeting, although Lavrov had a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later Tuesday, informing him about the results of the trilateral talks.

The meeting appears to signal that the former rivals may have reached a deal on dividing spheres of influence in Syria that would see Turkey cut support for Assad’s foes in exchange for freedom of action in the areas along its border.