Turkey to host four-nation summit on Syria crisis

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A summit between the leaders of Turkey, France, Germany and Russia will be held in Istanbul this month to discuss the conflict in Syria and efforts for a lasting solution to the war in the Arab country, a Turkish official said Friday.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, in a written statement said the summit will take place on Oct. 27.

Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last month to set up a demilitarized zone around the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib preventing a government offensive on the last rebel stronghold in the country.

Idlib has been calm since, though some militant groups did not meet an Oct. 15 deadline to evacuate the DMZ. Many feared that a government offensive in Idlib would trigger a new refugee crisis as the region is home to some 3 million people many of them already displaced by the war from other parts of Syria.

Also Friday, Syrian President Bashar Assad received a Russian delegation in Damascus including special presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinen during which they discussed political progress and the process of forming a committee focusing on the current constitution, according to state news agency SANA.

SANA quoted Assad as telling the delegation that the return of Syrian refugees to their home is “a fundamental objective and priority for the Syrian government.”

Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government while Turkey has been helping insurgents trying to remove him from power.

Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesman, said all aspects of the Syrian conflict are expected to be discussed, including the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement and efforts for a lasting solution to the conflict.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be attending the summit, according to an announcement by government spokeswoman Martina Fietz.

A statement by France’s Elysee Palace said Paris intends primarily to promote the maintenance of the cease-fire in Idlib to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and a new mass wave of refugees, and the effective launch of an inclusive political process in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.

“These two objectives will be at the center of discussions between Heads of State and Government,” the statement said.

Security Council resolution 2254 from December 2015 calls on top U.N. officials to convene the two sides of the Syrian conflict “to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process.”

The Kremlin confirmed Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit and said it would focus on political settlement and conditions for the return of Syrian refugees.

Asked if the Kremlin was expecting a breakthrough at the meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency that “this meeting is not about breakthroughs.”

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