Erdogan and Putin clash on Idlib’s fate at Iran summit

Turkish Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin disagreed Friday over a ceasefire in the Syrian province of Idlib, the last insurgent stronghold threatened by a regime offensive, a rare scene illustrating their differences over Syria despite a close cooperation.

The verbal challenge took place at a summit in Tehran between MM. Erdogan, Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rohani whose main object was the fate of Idlib, a northwestern province of Syria bordering Turkey that regime forces want to take over from rebels and jihadists.

If Russia and Iran support Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Erdogan is opposed to a massive offensive that could lead to an exodus to Turkey, where some three million Syrians have already taken refuge.

“If the term” ceasefire “was included here, then this statement would be all the more relevant,” said Erdogan during discussions with his counterparts in Russia and Iran on the drafting of the final communiqué of the summit, broadcast live on television.

“In my opinion, it would strengthen the third article” of the statement, insisted Mr. Erdogan.

Visibly unconvinced, Putin rejoined the proposal of the Turkish President with a courteous firmness, under the amused gaze of their host, Mr. Rohani.

“The fact is that there are no representatives of armed groups around this table” authorized to negotiate a cease-fire, he argued. “There are no representatives of the al-Nusra Front, the IS, or the Syrian Army.”

“I think that, overall, the Turkish president is right: it would be a good thing. But we can not ensure in their place (…) that they will stop shooting or using armed drones, “argued the Russian head of state.

This exchange is a rare public manifestation of the disagreements that exist between Turkey and Russia, two countries that have been cooperating closely on the Syrian issue since last year, while supporting opposing sides.

These disagreements are exacerbated by preparations by the Syrian regime for an offensive against Idlib and Syrian and Russian bombing of parts of the province, which is the last stronghold of the opposition.

Ankara, who condemned the bombing this week, reiterated its opposition to a large-scale military operation against Idlib.

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