Just now President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, President of Turkey Recep Erdogan and I have concluded very substantive talks on Syria. They were held in a constructive and business-like atmosphere. Let me note that our trilateral summits have become a regular occurrence. Today we have held the fourth. Such close coordination allows us to effectively organise efforts aimed at long-term normalisation in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Together with our partners, we identified the key areas of further cooperation in the Syrian settlement process. The agreements we have reached are reflected in the final joint statement. It is very important that our three countries intend to strengthen cooperation as part of the Astana process that has proven its worth. We will continue to step up our efforts in fighting terrorism, promoting intra-Syrian dialogue and improving the humanitarian situation in Syria.
We have agreed to continue to hold regular expert meetings with the participation of delegations from the guarantor states, Syrian parties, the government, the opposition and representatives of the United Nations. We have agreed that the next, 12th round of consultations will be held in late March – early April in Astana.
The Astana troika maintains close contacts with regional stakeholders and international organisations. Some states have requested to be made part of the Astana format as observers. In this regard, we instructed our respective foreign ministers to work out a way to grant such status to them.
To reiterate, thanks to the major contribution by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, favourable conditions have been created for Syria to begin the process of peaceful reconstruction. We are convinced that durable stability in Syria can be achieved only by political and diplomatic means in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and in strict compliance with the principles of unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.
It is our common opinion that only the Syrians themselves should determine the future of their country. There is no other way to resolve the crisis in Syria. It was in this vein that we considered issues related to promoting the intra-Syrian political process, and agreed to work together to facilitate the early launch of the Constitutional Committee, which is designed to address the fundamental aspects of the future state structure of the Syrian Arab Republic. The candidates for membership have been largely agreed by the Syrian government and the opposition. Now, it is necessary to approve the list of the committee members and develop regulations on the key parameters of its functioning.
It is believed that the success of the political process in Syria will help further normalise relations between Damascus and the Arab countries, restore the republic’s membership in the Arab League and serve the interests of security and stability in the Middle East in general.
During the talks, the troika leaders reiterated that neutralising terrorist groups in Syria is a top priority. In this regard, they discussed ways of implementing the Russian-Turkish memorandum on the Idlib de-escalation zone. Notably, our Iranian and Turkish colleagues are willing to work together in order to ease tensions and stabilise the situation in Idlib. We have agreed to take additional steps in this regard. We believe that maintaining the efforts to put an end to hostilities should not be detrimental to the efforts to combat terrorism. To reiterate, creating the Idlib de-escalation zone is a temporary measure. Aggressive raids by militants should not go unpunished.
During the talks, we also discussed how the plans announced by the US to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria will affect developments in Syria. It is our common opinion that these steps will play a positive role and help stabilise the situation in this region of Syria, which should eventually come under the legitimate government’s control.
Much attention was paid to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and facilitating the return of refugees. The Astana troika is doing a lot in this regard. With our overall support, Syria can now accommodate up to 1.5 million people. The government has provided firm guarantees of a non-discriminatory approach to all those who wish to return home.
However, in order to radically improve the state of affairs in Syria, to solve acute social problems and to rebuild the economy, there is need for joint efforts by the entire international community. We call on all stakeholders and international organisations, primarily the UN, to step up their assistance to Syria as it tries to restore peaceful life and deal with the aftereffects of the hostilities.
In closing, I would like to sincerely thank our Iranian and Turkish partners, President Rouhani and President Erdogan, for today’s substantive and productive talks. I am confident that the results of the summit will promote productive work in the interest of establishing peace and stabilising the situation in Syria.
Question (retranslated): Considering that you discussed various issues at the meeting, what can you tell us about the future of Idlib and the eastern bank of the Euphrates River? What issues did you discuss in this context?
Vladimir Putin: All of us proceed from the premise that observance of Syria’s territorial integrity should be one of the principles of a settlement. This concerns Idlib and the territories adjacent to the Euphrates River, including the eastern bank. And, of course, the struggle against terrorism must go on no matter where the terrorists are. This is the first point.
And the second point. We do not support anything that is related to separatism. We believe that any dialogue, within Syria, should lead to the full restoration of its society and state.
Question (retranslated): The US decided to withdraw from Syria but called on its NATO allies to establish monitoring areas on these territories. What do you think about this?
Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani, you said we show an understanding for these concerns. What steps can be taken in this area with consideration for Turkey’s concerns? The US has expressed its view on this. However, we are seeing that Mr Trump’s colleagues do not share his opinion. If President Trump made a final decision, the situation would be different. But now we are hearing April and May. It is unclear what will happen next: will the troops be withdrawn?
We are closely watching the Astana format. Our problem is that we want Syria’s territorial integrity to be ensured. First of all, Manbij must be freed from the terrorists. We should not give a single plot of land to the terrorists in Idlib. The people of Syria are the lawful owners of these territories..
Vladimir Putin: We understand the need to ensure Turkey’s security along its southern borders. We know that Turkey and the Syrian Arab Republic are bound by a treaty that includes principles on the joint struggle against terrorism. This may become the foundation of this work today, too.
Our special services and military departments are in close contact and actively cooperating in this area. I am sure that if we act in concert as we did before, success will be guaranteed. But in the final analysis, we believe, and the President of the Republic of Turkey can confirm this, in the final analysis we believe that the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic will be ensured with the elimination of the terrorist threat about which the President of Turkey spoke.
As for US troop withdrawal, we know that US President Donald Trump is fairly active in implementing his election promises, which is a rare occurrence in US politics. One of these promises is the withdrawal US troops from Syria. But as mentioned earlier, domestic political developments may prevent him from always reaching his goals.
We do not know what will happen next. As of today, we can say that there are no big changes on the territory, but we believe this will still happen. If it does, the only correct decision to ensure security will be to put these territories under the control of the Syrian armed forces.
Question: You have already said much about how bad the situation with Syrian refugees is. What else could the three countries do to get them home? Who else, do you think, could get in on the act? And if they could, why have they not done so yet?
A question for the President of Russia. On January 23, at a meeting with President Erdogan in Moscow, you cited a letter written by UN permanent representatives of Western countries to the UN Secretary-General, in which they actually hampered the creation of the Constitutional Committee in Syria. At the time, you expressed hope that trust can be restored and the political process will continue. Have there been any developments since then?
Vladimir Putin: To begin with the last part of your question, we have been working energetically with our colleagues, Turkish partners and Iranian partners. Our experts from the military departments and the foreign ministries continued active consultations with the Syrian government and the opposition. I am satisfied that, in general, we have made progress.
It is still too early to say anything definitive, but we expressed our bewilderment at the positions of some of our partners regarding the formation of this Constitutional Committee, because we think we complied with all the requirements, and the result even exceeded expectations, so I had an impression that the process of creating the Constitutional Committee was not just hampered but sabotaged. Although publicly, they are talking about the need to use political means.
Despite these difficulties, we continued to work hard, and I think we will achieve our ultimate goal in the near future. The sooner we do it, the better.
With regard to the humanitarian component, if everyone is interested in having refugees return to their homes, we must do our best to ensure that their living conditions are decent and suitable for humans. So, there is no cause to limit the provision of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people for political reasons. Even more strange is some countries’ decision to impose sanctions on the companies and individuals who provide such humanitarian aid and cooperate with the Syrian government in order to restore infrastructure and provide help in healthcare, education, and so on. Everyone should rally around one thing which is to help Syria restore its statehood.