TURKEY

All parties of Istanbul summit agree only political process could put an end to Syria war

From left to right, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and French President Emmanuel Macron join hands at a news conference after the Istanbul summit on Syria, Oct. 27.

Ending the Syrian civil war is only possible through a political solution, instead of military options, the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France said following a quartet meeting on Syria in Istanbul

The nearly eight-year conflict in Syria must be solved through a negotiated political process, instead of insistence on military confrontation, the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France declared on Saturday following the historic quartet summit in Istanbul. Experts say although the parties involved have different priorities and interests in the country, meeting on the common denominator of "political process" is a hopeful outcome for the region. "The interests of the four countries are not quite aligned when it comes to Syria. Yet, the fact that they all agree on a negotiated political process, instead of a military solution, is significant," said Murat Yeşiltaş, an academic at Ankara Social Science University and director of Security Studies at the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at the summit, which was held at the historical Vahdettin Pavilion overlooking Istanbul's Bosporus. Speaking at a joint news conference after the summit, Erdoğan said the summit aimed at reaching a full cease-fire to halt bloodshed in Syria.

"The Syria conflict cannot be solved merely by military means. We will improve cooperation against the terror threat from Syria," Erdoğan said, adding that a constitutional committee for Syria should be formed as soon as possible. "There could be no military solution to the ongoing conflict and the conflict could be resolved only through a negotiated political process in line with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254," a final joint statement released following the summit said. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, was also present at the summit. De Mistura was quoted by Anadolu Agency (AA) as saying the meeting was "positive and constructive." It further added that the "importance of increased coordination among all international initiatives which aim at contributing to a credible and sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict," was highlighted during the summit. Erdoğan underlined that the Astana peace process on the Syrian conflict sets an example to the international community, saying that Turkey is determined to continue efforts both in the Astana process and in other platforms.

"It is early to say that this [the quartet meeting] will turn into a new 'established entity' although Turkey seems willing to continue the dialogue among the parties and reach concrete results for the future of Syria," Yeşiltaş said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that there must be free elections at the end of this political process and that Syria must become a safe place for the Syrian people, so that they can return to their country. "A political solution is necessary besides military solutions. We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria," she added.

CONSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE TO BE FORMED BY END OF YEAR

Commitment to Syria's territorial integrity and forming a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria were among the highlighted points of the summit. The parties have "reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations," the final statement read.

Regarding the new constitution, the parties "called for establishing and early convening, considering the circumstances, by the end of the year of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva that would achieve the constitutional reform," it added. The parties in the summit do not necessarily have an aligned position regarding the Syria crisis. Russia, for example, is the main backer of Syria's Bashar Assad, while Ankara says Assad must go for the country to have a peaceful transition. Turkey has long said Assad is responsible for the killings of hundreds of thousands of Syrians. In addition, when it comes to terrorist groups in Syria, Turkey sees the PKK's Syria affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist group, while Germany and France only see the PKK as a terrorist group, but not the YPG. Russia, on the other hand, does not see the PKK as a terrorist group, which Ankara has been fighting for nearly four decades, nor do they see the YPG as a terrorist group. "The issue of the YPG is particularly a matter of disagreement among the parties. Particularly, France does not distance itself from the YPG. France's Syria policy does not fall far from the U.S.' Syria policy, yet Washington is exhausted in Syria and also excluded from the recent efforts on Syria. France, in a way, fills up the space for the U.S. For Germany, compared to France, a Syrian policy is at most two dimensional: the fight against Daesh and the refugee issue. Berlin has a pragmatic policy when it comes to Syria's future," Yeşiltaş added. The YPG has been heavily supported by the U.S. through military equipment and weaponry. Washington has partnered with the YPG under the pretext of fighting Daesh, a move which has strained its ties with Ankara severely. On Turkey's effort to eliminate terrorists along its borders in northern Syria, Erdoğan repeated Ankara's determination for a possible counterterror operation east of the Euphrates River.

"We will continue to eliminate threats to national security east of the Euphrates as well as in its west in Syria," he said, referring to Turkey's cross-border operations in Syria since 2016 - Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch - meant to rid border areas of terrorist groups such as the PKK, YPG and Daesh.

COMMON STANCE AGAINST TERRORISM

A final statement from the four leaders also rejects "separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighboring countries." The French president called on Russia to put pressure on the Assad regime to bring about a "stable and lasting cease-fire in Idlib."

"We rely on Russia to exercise very clear pressure on the regime which depends on it for survival," he said. "Syria needs to be completely cleaned of radical groups. Constitutional reform is needed to strengthen the Syrian society," Russian President Vladimir Putin responded.

Turkey and Russia reached a deal on Idlib to bring regime bombing on the northwestern province, home to about 3.5 million civilians, to an end on Sept. 17, which was also welcomed by the summit on Saturday. The deal set up a demilitarized zone of 15-20 kilometers. Moderate opposition groups have already evacuated the designated zones; yet, the withdrawal of radical groups is still continuing. The deal also foresees that opposition groups in Idlib remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will carry out joint patrols in the area. Since the Idlib deal was reached, the region has been relatively calm. Turkey had said that an all-out offensive on Idlib would cause a new refugee wave of nearly 3.5 million people from Idlib rushing to its borders and ultimately into the EU.

Turkish-Russian joint patrols in Idlib to begin in November

Meanwhile, joint patrols by Turkey and Russia in Idlib are set to begin in November to ensure the safety of civilians and compliance with the cease-fire in line with the Sochi deal. According to news reports, regular coordinated patrols in the 20-kilometer buffer zones that separate the opposition forces and Syrian regime still continues, while preparations for the joint patrols stepped up recently.

Following the establishment of a Joint Action Center that Turkey and Russia will build between the sixth and seventh checkpoints - the demilitarized corridor where joint patrols will begin to operate. The two countries will also dispatch more troops and equipment to the checkpoints if deemed necessary. The joint patrol will also be responsible for opening and maintaining the security of the M5 highway, a major trade route that connected the commercial hub of Aleppo to Damascus and on to the Jordanian border.

HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS MUST BE KEPT OPEN

Leaders highlighted the need to create conditions throughout the country for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their original places of residence in Syria, and that the returnees need security from armed conflict, political persecution or arbitrary arrests. Macron said that it is unacceptable that aid organizations are blocked in Syria, adding that humanitarian aid corridors should be established. "We should be vigilant that the cease-fire in Syria will be long-lasting," he said. Macron also said that a military offensive on Idlib would have severe political and military consequences. Merkel, meanwhile, said the leaders "have the duty to prevent another humanitarian disaster."

Summit covered widely by international media

The quartet summit held in Istanbul on Syria's eight-year conflict commanded wide coverage by Arab, Iranian and German media outlets.

Germany's public broadcaster ARD reported that the German, Turkish, Russian and French leaders have defined "permanent ceasefire" in Syria's Idlib province as their short-term goal. ARD also underlined that despite doubts among some observers ahead of the meeting, the quartet summit managed to agree on a joint statement, calling for a political solution and stressing that there would be no military solution to the conflict. Germany's influential Sueddeutsche Zetiung daily has also highlighted the success of the summit. "The Syrian summit in Istanbul ended with an agreement on the basic elements of a political process in Syria," the newspaper reported.

French media stressed the call to uphold a lasting and stable cease-fire in Idlib and gather a constitutional committee by year-end. Le Monde reported the decision to underscore the need to "ensure humanitarian organizations' rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria." State broadcaster France Info reported on the reaffirmed commitment to the "safe and voluntary return of refugees to Syria" and to fight terrorism throughout the country.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel underlined the importance of the Istanbul summit's call for drafting a new constitution in Syria. "The Istanbul summit leaves Assad's fate in the hands of Syrian people," read a headline in the Saudi-funded Al Arabiya channel. Syria's official SANA news agency described the four-nation summit held on Saturday as "serious and constructive." It gave full coverage to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's statements in which he rejected any military solution to the Syrian conflict. Rudaw TV, which broadcasts from northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) region, highlighted Erdoğan's statements in which he vowed to eliminate threats in the east of the Euphrates River.

Under the headline "The quadripartite summit plans a new start for peace process in Syria," German weekly Der Spiegel's Internet page emphasized the importance of agreement between the leaders for the Syrian constitutional committee's meeting by the end of this year.

"Establishing a constitution committee and protecting Syrian territorial integrity," read a headline on Iran's official IRNA news agency. The summit also dominated hourly bulletins on Iranian state television, which highlighted Erdoğan's statements about briefing Iran about the outcomes of the summit and steps to be taken. The semi-official Mehr news agency also highlighted pledges by Russian President Vladimir Putin to "wipe out terror groups."

Chinese news agency Xinhua on Sunday reported Erdoğan's remarks that the summit would succeed in "adopting a sincere and constructive approach," under the heading, "Turkey hosts 4-way summit to seek political solution to Syrian issue."

China Central Television stressed the leaders' call to establish a lasting ceasefire and assemble a committee to draw up a new Syrian constitution, underlining French President Emmanuel Macron's remarks on the need to abide by the Sept. 17 agreement between Turkey and Russia to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria. Japanese public broadcaster NHK also stressed the issue of forming a constitutional committee in Syria by the end of the year to "lay the groundwork for democratic elections."

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