Turkey Pledges to Work for Syria Cease-Fire in Mediator Role

Turkey said it will facilitate contacts between Syria’s government and opposition groups in preparation for peace talks organized together with Russia and Iran that aim to reach a nationwide cease-fire as the first step to ending an almost six-year civil war.

“We must find a way to stop this bloodiest war of the modern era,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said at a news conference in Ankara on Monday. “Our aim here is to make sure the cease-fire is reached and systematically enforced in all of Syria. Our ultimate aim is to reach a political transition process.”

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed in Moscow last week to seek a truce in Syria and hold peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, in a joint approach that sidelines the U.S. They offered to act as guarantors of a peace deal to end the conflict that has killed more than 300,000 people and sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries and to Europe. The priority for the three countries is fighting terrorism, not deposing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday. Turkey’s military deployed tanks and guns on the Syrian border over the weekend as Erdogan urged joint action with the U.S. to fight Islamic State in its de facto capital, Raqqa.

The date of the Astana talks and the list of participants haven’t been set yet, Kalin said. The first meeting is due to be held in mid-January, Russia said on Friday. The Syrian government, the “moderate” opposition, the Kurds and forces “on the ground” including armed opposition that aren’t part of terrorist groups will be invited, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

The United Nations, whose efforts to stage Syria peace talks collapsed earlier this year because of continued fighting, has announced a new round will be held in February. The talks in Kazakhstan won’t replace the UN-led efforts in Geneva, according to Russia and Turkey.

In reality, Russia, Iran and Turkey aim to present a “fait accompli” to other powers after brokering their own solution to the Syrian civil war, said Rafael Enikeev, head of the Middle East department at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, a Kremlin advisory group.

“Once we have real results, with signed agreements which are guaranteed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, we can take these documents and at that stage involve the UN and the West,” Enikeev said by phone.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran this month took the city of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest, defeating mostly Islamist rebels. It marked one of Russia’s biggest victories since it joined the Syrian war last year in support of Assad against rebels backed by the U.S., Turkey, Gulf and European states. Turkey helped to broker and guarantee a deal for the evacuation of 100,000 rebels and civilians from the opposition-held east of the city.

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