The top diplomats of the three countries serving as guarantors of the nationwide ceasefire in Syria have given a joint press conference focusing on the prospects for a political settlement in Syria.
Sergei Lavrov, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey, respectively, have held a press conference in Moscow on April 28 following joint talks.
Foreign Minister Lavrov began his remarks by pointing out that the US, French and British coalition airstrikes against Syria on April 14 were conducted before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had completed its investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma on April 7.
The Russian foreign minister also pointed out that cooperation between Russia, Iran and Turkey had helped Syria significantly in its struggle against Daesh (ISIS), the Nusra Front and other terrorist groups. The three countries, he said, remain in agreement on “the absolute inadmissibility of attempts to divide Syria along-ethno-confessional lines.”
Lavrov emphasized that peace efforts should not be accompanied by any preconditions, such as the resignation of the Syrian government. Such preconditions were “highly destructive,” he said, and were aimed at complicating the resumption of the negotiation process.
The foreign minister said Saturday’s talks will help further consolidate the three countries’ efforts to abide by Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council (the 2015 resolution calling for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria).
Lavrov emphasized that the UN can play a major role in helping the Astana process develop in several key areas. This includes a ceasefire regime in the so-called deescalation zones (which excludes terrorists). Lavrov urged armed opposition groups to drive terrorists out of these areas. The UN can play a role in making clear to the opposition not to make alliances with these jihadist groups.
Secondly, he said, the UN can assist in organizing a major campaign to help Syrians return to normal life, including via its humanitarian agencies. Moscow will assist in convincing Damascus in showing more flexibility regarding these aid efforts. The UN must speak out against limiting aid to opposition-held areas.
Thirdly, the UN can help in facilitating political dialogue. The Astana process, culminating in the Sochi conference, achieved more than any other process, and formed the principles of Syrian settlement which were then presented to the UN.
Ultimately, Lavrov noted that Staffan de Mistura’s criticism of Astana and Sochi has been the result of pressure, and was odd given what these platforms have achieved. The Sochi declaration remains the main instrument for de Mistura to implement his mandate on Syria under UN Resolution 2254, he said.
For his part, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif voiced his hope that the Astana process was the only one that could result in lasting peace in Syria. There was no military solution to the Syrian crisis, he emphasized.
Zarif pointed to the upcoming Astana summit in May to discuss political issues, including the exchange of prisoners.
The Iranian foreign minister also stressed that as a victim of chemical weapons in the past, Tehran condemns the use of such weapons, and hopes that an objective investigation on the ground in Syria by the OPCW will find out the truth. He added that those countries who supported Iraq during its use of chemical weapons, and said that these countries have no right to accuse Damascus today.
Zarif stressed that the global community has a responsibility to assist Syria, which has successfully fought against the terrorist groups such as Daesh (ISIS) and al-Nusra, in reconstructoin efforts.
The Iranian foreign minister accused the United States of sowing discord between various factions and groups in Syria. US policy is counterproductive, he said, and has helped to further spread extremism in the region, from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Zarif said that President Trump’s demands regarding the Iran nuclear deal were a violation of Washington’s international obligations, and that US demands to change the deal were “unacceptable” for the Iranian people.
For his part, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Saturday’s talks saw discussion on a whole gamut of issues related to the Syrian crisis and the Astana peace process. He also reiterated Turkey’s support for Syria’s territorial integrity.
Cavusoglu said that the shared goal of the three guarantor countries was to provide Syrians with a normal life, to provide humanitarian aid, and ultimately to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The upcoming meeting in Astana will be “one more step” in solidifying the ceasefire and bringing peace to Syria, he added.
The foreign minister admitted that there have been efforts to undermine the Astana talks by “some groups.” He emphasized that the guarantors will continue their work, continue their cooperation, and making efforts at increasing such cooperation.
Cavusoglu urged every actor in the global community, including those trying to torpedo the political process, to contribute to the political process instead.
The Turkish foreign minister urged all terrorist groups, including Kurdish YPG militia (which Ankara considers a terrorist entity), to leave Syria once and for all, and to return control of these territories to the Syrian people. He accused Washington of supporting Kurdish terrorist organizations in Syria. Cavusoglu said that terrorism needs to be systematically eradicated in the wartorn country, including in Idlib governate.
Some Don’t Want Peace in Syria
Ahead of the press conference, Lavrov said that Moscow believes that collective measures were necessary in the Astana peace talks format to normalize the situation in Syria. He also reiterated that Russia, Turkey and Iran need to work together to help Damascus clear the wartorn country of terrorists.
The Russian foreign minister added that unfortunately, “the events of recent weeks have shown that not everyone seems to want peace in Syria.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif thanked Lavrov for Russia’s hospitality, noting that he had “lost count” of the number of meetings he has held with his Russian counterpart. He added that Moscow and Tehran have reached a high level of understanding not only in security, but the economy as well.
According to Zarif, the Astana platform for Syrian settlement was “the only initiative where Tehran cooperates with its Turkish partners, and this cooperation yields results.”