In the latest snub of president Obama and the US State Department, on Wednesday Turkey and Russia reached an agreement for a ceasefire in Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister said, and according to Anadolu News Agency, will aim to put it into effect by midnight. Anadolu, citing sources, said the two countries have reached a consensus that will be presented to participants in the conflict on expanding the ceasefire that was established in Aleppo earlier this month.
There may be a hurdle however: Ankara would not budge on its opposition to President Bashar al-Assad staying in power. The comments by Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday appeared to signal a tentative advance in talks aimed at reaching a truce, but the insistence that Assad must go will do little to smooth negotiations with Russia, his biggest backer.
Not content with isolating the US, Russia, Iran and Turkey also made a mockery of the UN when they said last week they were ready to help broker a peace deal after holding talks in Moscow where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to. Arrangements for the talks, which would not include the United States and be distinct from separate intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations, remain hazy, but Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan, a close ally.
“There are two texts ready on a solution in Syria. One is about a political resolution and the other is about a ceasefire. They can be implemented any time,” Cavusoglu told reporters on the sidelines of an awards ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara.
While Turkey’s insistence has been that Assad must go, perhaps in legacy support of US and NATO positions, with Cavusoglu saing that “the whole world knows it is not possible for there to be a political transition with Assad, and we also all know that it is impossible for these people to unite around Assad”, Turkey’s position appears not set in stone, and last week, Russia’s foreign minister said Russia, Iran and Turkey had agreed that the priority in Syria was to fight terrorism and not to remove Assad’s government.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said earlier on Wednesday Moscow and Ankara had agreed on a proposal toward a general ceasefire. The Kremlin said it could not comment on the report.
Cited by Reuters, a Syrian rebel official said meetings between Ankara and rebel forces were expected to continue this week, but could not confirm whether a final ceasefire agreement had been reached.
As Reuters also adds, a major sticking point in negotiations between rebel groups and Turkey was that Russia wanted to exclude the Damascus countryside from the ceasefire, but the rebels refused to do so. A second rebel official told Reuters there was no agreement yet from the side of the rebel factions.
“The details of the ceasefire deal have yet to be officially presented to the factions, and there is no agreement so far,” the second official said.
Russia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the Syrian government was consulting with the opposition ahead of possible peace talks, while a Saudi-backed opposition group said it knew nothing of the negotiations but supported a ceasefire.
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In a separate aside, AP reported that Turkish President Erdogan said Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the two countries which ostensibly (together with the US) are responsible for creating, funding and arming the Islamic State – should join its meeting with Russia and Iran to discuss Syrian peace efforts. Erdogan said Tuesday the meeting of foreign ministers should include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying they had “shown goodwill and given support” to Syria.
In retrospect, Somehow we doubt that the Saudis and Qatar will be the catalysts that unleash “peace” in Syria.