Russia, Iran, And Turkey Agree To Work Toward Syria Accord, Serve As 'Guarantors'
RFE/RL December 20, 2016
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia, Iran, and Turkey have agreed to work with Syrian combatants toward drafting a peace deal and to act as "guarantors" of any future settlement between Syria's government and rebel fighters.
Speaking after talks in Moscow on December 20 with the foreign ministers and defense ministers of Iran and Turkey, Lavrov said ministers from the three countries "agree with the importance of widening the cease-fire, of free access for humanitarian aid, and movement of civilians on Syrian territory."
He said the three countries also agreed that the priority in Syria is the fight against terrorism and not the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the latter of which is a stated goal of the United States and Turkey.
Lavrov was citing a joint statement prepared on December 20 with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusgolu and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Their meeting came a day after Russia's ambassador to Turkey was shot dead in Ankara in what Russian and Turkish officials described as a bid to derail the December 20 talks.
An off-duty Turkish police officer fatally shot Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in the back while he gave a speech at an Ankara art gallery on December 19.
"Both Turkey and Russia are well aware that the main aim of the attackers was to damage Russian-Turkish relations and to tarnish the progress we have jointly managed to achieve recently," Cavusgolu said before the talks began.
Russia and Turkey restored diplomatic relations this summer after a freeze in political and economic ties over Turkey's downing of a Russian aircraft in November 2015 and have since moved closer in their once widely differing positions toward the Syrian conflict.
Russia, Turkey, and Iran are all important players in the Syrian conflict with abilities to bring pressure upon various sides in the civil war to work toward a peace deal.
Iran and Russia strongly back Assad and are providing his government with military assistance against rebels seeking to overthrow him.
Turkey has long called for Assad to step down as it backs some rebel groups.
However, Turkey has recently also put increasing priority on ensuring Kurdish militias do not make further territorial gains in Syria along its border amid the ongoing Syrian war.
Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, the police officer who gunned down the Russian diplomat, shouted references to Syria and Aleppo and "Allahu Akbar!" after shooting Karlov.
"Allahu akbar" is a commonly heard Islamic phrase meaning "God is great."
Altintas was later reportedly killed by police after a shoot-out that lasted over 15 minutes. Turkish media said police have detained six people, including Altintas's parents and three other relatives, in connection with the killing.
Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Turkey, Ibragim Zhunusov, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service he was standing near Karlov when the shooting began.
"There was a guy standing there. I thought he was a security officer. Less than two minutes after Karlov started his speech, shooting started," Zhunusov said. "We were just 3 to 4 meters from the [Russian] ambassador. We all lay on the floor with our faces down. People started to run. The attacker shouted that we shouldn't move and remain in our places. Then the shooting started again. We managed to escape to the street."
In Aleppo, Russian warplanes are supporting a Syrian government offensive to retake eastern neighborhoods of the city from rebel groups in what Damascus hopes will be a major blow to the more than five-year-long rebellion in Syria.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on December 20 that Lavrov spoke with Cavusgolu by phone shortly after the shooting and that they agreed the ambassador's killing underlined the need to step up the fight against terrorism.
Lavrov later issued a statement saying, "We will take measures at this meeting [in Moscow] that will make it impossible for those who nurtured the people who ordered and organized this crime to realize their plans."
Turkey has said it will conduct an investigation of the murder jointly with Russia.
Some Turkish officials immediately blamed the assassination on followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom they also blame for a failed coup attempt this summer, but provided no evidence.
The U.S.-based Gulen issued a statement late on December 19 saying he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by the killing of the Russian ambassador. "I condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of terror," Gulen said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy and its consulates in Turkey have closed after a man approached the embassy in Ankara and fired a gun in the early hours of December 20.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the man took out a shotgun hidden in his coat and fired around eight shots before he was overpowered by the embassy's security guards.
There were no injuries in the incident.
The day after Karlov's death in Ankara, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his secret services to boost security in Russia and abroad.
Putin said on December 20 that he asked "the special services to take additional measures to ensure security inside Russia and outside, to raise the security of Russian institutions and employees abroad."
Putin said he also instructed his Russian intelligence agents, "through channels of partnership," to strengthen their work "with the intelligence agencies of other states."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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