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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Putin, Erdogan Urge Restraint in Iran Crisis, Cease-Fire in Libya

By Dorian Jones January 08, 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint call for restraint by Washington and Tehran. The declaration made Wednesday in Istanbul is the latest sign of deepening regional cooperation by the leaders, symbolized by the inauguration of a Russian-Turkish gas pipeline.

"We are deeply concerned about the escalation of the tension between the U.S. and Iran, as well as its negative repercussions on Iraq," read a joint statement by Putin and Erdogan.

The statement criticized last week's killing of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by an American drone as "an act undermining security and stability in the region." Criticism also was aimed at Tehran for Wednesday's missile strike against a U.S. military base in Iraq.

"We believe that exchange of attacks and use of force by any party do not contribute to finding solutions to the complex problems in the Middle East, but rather would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone's interests," the statement said.

Erdogan, addressing an inauguration ceremony of a gas pipeline between Russia and Turkey, criticized Solemani's killing." Nobody has the right to throw the entire region, especially Iraq, into a ring of fire for the sake of his or her own interests," said Erdogan.

The Turkish president pledged to work to defuse tensions. "We will use all the means available to prevent our region from bursting into tears and bloodshed," he said.

"Our purpose is to de-escalate and to let common sense prevail again. At this critical moment where the war drums play, we want to de-escalate tension by using all the diplomatic channels," Erdogan added.

Erdogan said he had spoken to regional leaders and would dispatch Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Baghdad on Thursday.

Putin and Erdogan held more than an hour of talks before attending the inauguration ceremony of the Turk Stream gas pipeline. The pipeline delivers Russian gas to Istanbul's 15 million inhabitants, as well as Europe. Erdogan described the pipeline as a "beacon" of Turkish-Russian cooperation.

Turk Stream is the target of American sanctions, as part of broader economic measures aimed at Moscow. Ankara's deepening cooperation with Moscow is causing concerns among Turkey's western allies.

Senior Russian ministers and military officials accompanied Putin in his visit to Istanbul. "I am surprised Putin brought so many high-ranking officials from foreign ministry to the military for such a ceremony. This is a message to Washington and Turkey's western allies," said Professor Mesut Casin, a foreign affairs adviser to Erdogan.

Wednesday's talks appear to have secured a diplomatic breakthrough, with Putin and Erdogan calling for a cease-fire in the Libyan civil war.

"I would like to emphasize the call that Presidents Putin and Erdogan addressed to all the Libyan sides – to immediately stop fighting, starting from 00:00 on Jan. 12," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday in a joint press conference in Istanbul with Cavusoglu.

"We have been especially working with our Russian partners to achieve a cease-fire in Libya," Cavusoglu added.

Cavusoglu said the cease-fire is aimed at helping to secure the success of a planned meeting in Berlin later this month to resolve the Libyan conflict.

Moscow and Ankara are backing rival sides in the Libyan civil war. Erdogan sent military forces on Sunday to support the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Russian mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked Wagner group are fighting with General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are laying siege to Tripoli.

The cease-fire call is seen as a diplomatic win for Erdogan, who was expected to lobby Putin to support such a move. "A cease-fire is important for Turkey, as it does not want to be drawn into a war in Libya," said former Turkish ambassador Mithat Rende. "Its deployment of forces to Libya is to secure a cease-fire. Otherwise, this becomes a risky operation, given the distances involved."

Supporting a significant force in a combat zone nearly 2,000 kilometers way is widely seen as posing a significant challenge for the Turkish military's logistic capabilities.

But with Haftar forces at the gates of Tripoli and having powerful backers other than Russia, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it remains unclear whether the cease-fire call will be heeded.

Syria also was on the agenda for Putin and Erdogan, and in particular, the future of Idlib. The Syria province on Turkey's border is the last stronghold of rebels, with about 3 million people trapped in the enclave.

Erdogan is lobbying Putin to end a Syrian regime offensive backed by Russian jets in Idlib. The joint statement issued after Wednesday's talks, however, appears to fall short of Turkish hopes, with no specific call for a cease-fire, other than a call for "calm."

"Turkey is concerned about a new mass migration of hundreds of thousands of people from over the border [from Idlib], but it appears Putin has not given anything," said Casin.

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