ANKARA: Iran`s president said on Monday that diplomacy, not a military approach, was the only solution to the crisis in Syria, ahead of trilateral talks with his Turkish and Russian counterparts in Ankara aimed at forging a lasting truce in the region. The leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia are meeting to try to advance peace efforts in Syria`s northwest, following attacks by Syrian government forces that risk deepening regional turmoil and pushing a new wave of migrants towards Turkey.
The summit, bringing together countries whose Syrian allies are combatants in a ruinous eight-year-old war, will focus on the Idlib region, the last remaining territory held by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have backed Assad against the rebels. Turkey`s Tayyip Erdogan, along with the United States, European and Arab allies, has supported different rebel factions in the conflict.
Speaking after bilateral talks with Erdogan and Putin and ahead of three-way talks, Rouhani said the groundwork for a return to stability in Syria needed to be established.
"Diplomacy and not (military) confrontation can secure peace in Syria," Rouhani said, adding that the United States needed to withdraw its troops from northeastern Syria immediately.
In an abrupt decision against the advice of his top aides and commanders, U.S. President Donald Trump said last year he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The move was welcomed by Turkey and Iran, but it has yet to be fully implemented. "The immediate withdrawal of American troops is necessary for establishing peace in Syria," Rouhani said.
FOCUS ON IDLIB
Erdogan said the three leaders would discuss developments in Idlib, the situation east of the Euphrates river in Syria`s northeast, and migration. He said Turkey, Russia and Iran need to take more responsibility to ensure peace in Syria.
"We are in a period when we need to take more responsibility for peace in Syria, when we need to carry more weight," Erdogan said, adding that all three leaders were in agreement that a political solution was necessary to end the crisis in Syria.
In comments ahead of three-way talks, all three leaders said the developments in Idlib, where Assad`s forces have waged an offensive to reclaim the last remaining rebel stronghold, was a cause for concern.
Turkey, which has a 911 km (566 miles) border with Syria along its southern frontier, has 12 military observation posts in the region, under a deal with Moscow and Tehran in 2017. In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Erdogan warned that any Syrian government attack on Turkish posts would be retaliated.
Erdogan and Putin, who agreed last month to take steps to "normalise" the situation Idlib after Syrian troops encircled rebels and a Turkish post in the region, also reiterated the need to root out militant groups from northwestern Syria.
Speaking after Erdogan and Rouhani, Putin said he hoped the summit in Ankara would bring a "final" settlement to the Syria crisis, adding that the three nations have to take additional steps to root out the "terrorist threat" there.
The summit comes a day after Syrian troops shelled the south of Idlib, according to rescuers and residents in the area where a ceasefire had halted the fierce army offensive two weeks ago. It also follows attacks on two of Saudi Arabia`s Aramco facilities by Yemen`s Iran-aligned Houthi group.