Russia, Iran, and Turkey, all of whom have a military presence in Syria, are expected to discuss the future of the Syrian war early next year in Moscow, the Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister announced Friday, days after the U.S. revealed it was withdrawing its troops from Syria.
“It’s our turn to host the [Russia-Turkey-Iran] summit … around the first week of the year. This will depend on the schedules of the presidents,” Mikhail Bogdanov, who also serves as President Vladimir Putin’s Middle East envoy, proclaimed, according to Interfax news agency.
The meeting between Russia and Iran — both Assad allies — and pro-Syrian opposition Turkey is expected to be the latest step in the Astana peace process set up in 2017 by the participants to end the conflict.
Soon after Bogdanov’s announcement, the minister also described Moscow’s ally Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “popular” leader who is capable of winning in a presidential election inside the war-ravaged country, the Moscow Times noted.
Bogdanov welcomed what he described as a thaw in the relationship between Assad and other Arab nations. In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been lending support to the Syrian opposition, expressed a willingness to work with his rival Assad.
“He’s fairly popular if he wasn’t, the results of the last few years would have been different,” Bogdanov, said in an interview in Moscow this week, referring to the Syrian dictator.
Asked whether or not Assad can win a presidential election, “Of course, I think so,” the minister replied.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to begin pulling out America’s 2,000 troops in Syria, effectively passing the baton of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to Turkey and leaving the Syrian Kurds vulnerable to attacks by Ankara.
U.S. support for Syrian Kurds has infuriated America’s NATO ally Turkey and pushed Ankara closer to Russia despite Moscow’s ally Damascus being on opposite sides of the conflict.
America’s Syrian withdrawal announcement has also prompted the U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria to turn to the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies for assistance in repelling a prospective Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.
Russia and Assad have pressured the Kurds into giving them territory in exchange for military assistance against Turkey. Assad and Turkish-backed troops are reportedly amassing in and around Manbij.