French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone Thursday (25 October) with US counterpart Donald Trump about strategy ahead of a four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul this weekend, the Élysée palace said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will host Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Saturday’s summit.
Russia and Turkey have their own agendas in Syria: Moscow is securing a key ally country in a region deserted by the US, while Ankara is taking measures against the emergence of a Kurdish state at its borders.
The EU is receiving Syrian refugees and suffering terrorist attacks perpetrated by militants or admirers of the Islamic State in Syria.
“The president laid out what is at stake for this meeting which seeks to confirm the ceasefire in the Idlib region and deepen discussions regarding the political process to resolve the conflict in Syria,” Macron’s office said in a statement.
Idlib and adjacent areas are the last stronghold of rebels who rose up against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. The area is also home to an estimated three million people, more than half of whom have already been displaced once during the war.
Turkey and Russia reached a deal last month to set up a buffer zone running 15-20 km into rebel territory that had to be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all jihadists by 22 October.
The agreement averted a planned offensive on Idlib by Russia, Assad’s biggest outside backer.
Commenting on the decision by Russia and Turkey to create a “demilitarised” zone in a rebel-held Syrian region, the EU called on Tuesday (18 September) on the “Astana guarantors”, Russia, Turkey and Iran, to respect civilians as a matter of priority.
“The United States and France share the same security. Humanitarian and political objectives in Syria and the US president asked the president of the Republic to bear out this common position at the Istanbul summit.”
Paris hopes maintaining a ceasefire around Idlib will enable aid convoys, six of which the Damascus regime is currently blocking in the capital, to get through to the last major Syrian rebel-held bastion.
A further French hope ahead of the summit is the creation of a joint constitutional committee made up of regime representatives, opposition groups and independent figures in the hope such a body can hold a first meeting by year end in Geneva.
“We hope the international community will bring maximum pressure to bear so that the Damascus regime finally accepts to engage in the political process,” the statement said.
Turkey, which has supported Syrian rebels, has been working with Syrian regime supporters Russia and Iran on a drive to end the over seven-year civil war, in efforts that have often been greeted with suspicion in the West.
The seventh round of Syria talks in Astana ended on Tuesday (31 October) with an agreement between the three “guarantor states” (Russia, Iran and Turkey) for a “congress of national dialogue” to be held in Sochi, despite reservations from the Syrian opposition. EURACTIV reports from Astana.
After attending three trilateral summits with Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this will be the first time Erdoğan, Putin and the EU’s two main leaders will come together on the subject.
The Élysée warned last week that Macron would reconsider his plan to attend Saturday’s summit if any regime assault was launched on Idlib.
Turkey, Iran and Russia pledged yesterday (4 April) to accelerate efforts to bring stability to Syria, underlining their joint commitment to the country a day after President Donald Trump raised the prospect of withdrawing US troops.
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