Rouhani urges revitalization of Astana process on Idlib in phone talks with Putin

March 1, 2020 - 16:12

In a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin late on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said the conflict in Syria must be settled politically.

The phone conversation took place as the war for control of the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib is going unabated between the Syrian forces and the Turkish-backed armed groups who have formed a coalition with the terrorists.

The Iranian president said it is not acceptable that certain parts of Syria remain under the control of terrorists.

Rouhani also said that the situation in Idlib is “worrisome”, calling for implementation of the Astana peace process as early as possible to pave the way for establishing peace and security in Syria.

He noted that Iran, Russia and Turkey have taken great strides in recent years in fighting terrorism and their victories against terrorism should not be undermined. 

“We should preserve their outcomes, and regarding the situation in Idlib, we are completely ready to find a solution at political and security levels, which would be agreed by the three countries,” he said.

In line with their security cooperation, Iran, Turkey and Russia - three power brokers in Syria - launched the Astana peace talks on the Syrian crisis. The talks were launched in January 2017 with the aim of putting an end to the Syrian conflict.

Kazakhstan has hosted multiple rounds of talks on Syria since January 2017 most of which involved delegations from the Syrian government and opposition.

Putin calls Astana peace process ‘effective’

Putin, for his part, said that the Astana peace process has been “effective”.

He attached great importance to maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity.

Rouhani also phoned Turkish president late on Saturday announcing that Iran is quite ready to host the trilateral summit to find a solution to the Idlib battle.

The presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey hold regular summits on Syria.

Rouhani noted that the lives of the innocent people in Idlib province should be protected and at the same time the terrorists in the region must be purged.

“In view of the gathering of dangerous terrorists and the need to protect the lives of innocent people living in the region, the issue of Idlib is very complicated.  On one hand, the lives of innocent people should be protected, and on the other hand, terrorists should be uprooted,” Rouhani said in his phone talks with Erdogan.

In a major escalation of the conflict in Idlib, at least 33 Turkish soldiers have died in a Syrian government attack on militants. The toll was the biggest military loss the Turkish military has suffered since it intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2016, and in response, Ankara said it struck scores of Syrian government targets and "neutralized" 2,212 "soldiers and elements". 

Russia, Syria's key ally, says Turkish troops were attacked in Idlib province by Syrian forces while operating alongside jihadist (terrorist) fighters, BBC reported on Feb. 28

The EU has warned the crisis could escalate further.

"There is a risk of sliding into a major open international military confrontation," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted. "It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger."

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke by phone on Friday. Erdogan and Putin both expressed concern and agreed on the need for "additional measures" to normalize the situation.

According to al Jazeera, forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad have renewed an offensive to capture Idlib from opposition forces, who are backed by Turkey. Since the operation intensified in December, Syrian government forces have rapidly advanced into the last opposition stronghold, retaking the strategic M5 highway and solidifying control over parts of Aleppo province, which borders Idlib.