Turkey, Russia and Iran on May 4 signed a memorandum of understanding on creating four “de-escalation zones” in Syria during a new round of peace talks held in Kazakh capital Astana, news agencies reported.
However, Reuters reported that the delegation sent by armed Syrian opposition rebel groups walked out of the talks and shouted angrily. Earlier on May 4, the groups were complaining of continued air strikes launched by the Damascus regime despite their invitation to the Astana conflict resolution meeting.
The announcement of the memorandum came one day after Vladimir Putin declared that “full format” relations had been restored between Moscow and Ankara following a meeting between the Russian president and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Following his meeting with Putin, Erdogan said that he believed that Russia and Turkey could together “change the destiny of the whole [Middle East] region”.
Erdogan and Putin discussed the prospects of establishing safe zones in war-torn Syria during their talks, despite the fact that Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the conflict, while Ankara supports some rebel groups attempting to overthrow his regime.
Putin told reporters on May 3 that the zones would amount to no-fly zones and that US President Donald Trump had told him in a phone call the previous day that he supported the idea.
“As for the flights over de-escalation zones,” Putin was reported as saying, “combat aviation would not be operating there on condition that no military activity is registered in such zones.”
A sticking point for Washington could be Iran’s role on the ground in Syria. Trump has been outspoken in opposing Tehran’s attempts to gain influence via conflicts in the Middle East, including those in Syria and Yemen.
Turkey has launched several airstrikes on positions held by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria in recent weeks, killing scores of YPG militants. Ankara sees the YPG as a threat to its national security because of the Syrian group’s link to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a terrorist organisation fighting for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey.
It remains to be seen whether the Astana declaration means that Turkey will no longer be able to carry out such airstrikes against the YPG. “We won’t admit the emergence on our southern borders of enemy enclaves that would endanger our territorial integrity and security,” Erdogan warned in Sochi.
Earlier on May 4, flying back from Sochi, Erdogan told reporters that “50% of the six-year-old conflict in Syria could be solved by the creation of de-escalation zones”, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Erdogan will travel to the US later this month to meet with Trump. He is expected to ask the Trump administration to stop supporting the YPG. It has served as a close ally to the US in its fight against Islamic State.
“The parties have reached an agreement to have a new high-level meeting in Astana in mid-July this year, and have agreed to hold preliminary consultations at the expert level in Ankara two weeks ahead of it. A new round of Syria talks in Geneva will be held in late May,” Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said, TASS reported.
More than 320,000 people have lost their lives and millions displaced since the Syrian war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.