Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attend a joint press conference after their summit on Syria held in Ankara, Turkey, on April 4, 2018. (Xinhua/Mustafa Kaya)
by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Russia, Turkey and Iran have put aside their rivalries on regional issues to forge a dialogue mechanism on Syria's future while the U.S. is poised to pull out of the war-torn country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a summit in the Turkish capital Wednesday during which the next stage of the Astana process was discussed.
As guarantor countries, the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a "lasting ceasefire" in Syria as well as territorial integrity of the war-torn country.
The tripartite Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana is a parallel process to the Geneva talks sponsored by the United Nations.
The presidents "rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism," said a joint statement released following the summit.
They also expressed "determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as the national security of neighboring countries," it added.
The summit was held while Turkish troops, supported by rebel fighters, took over northern Syrian region of Afrin, which was cleared of the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, blacklisted by Ankara as terrorists.
The U.S. support to the Kurdish forces and other disputes since an failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 have sparked an unprecedented meltdown in the Turkish-U.S. ties.
Last November, the first trilateral summit was held in Russia's Sochi and the third one is expected to be held in the coming months in Iran.
The summit focused on preparing the basis of a new constitution in Syria, rather than rushing to push for an immediate resolution to all hostilities, said local experts.
"This is mostly a show of determination from these three countries which have separate ideas of Syria but the fact that they are in a consistent dialogue is very important," Oytun Orhan, a researcher at the Ankara-based think tank Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, told Xinhua.
"This is a long-term process, expecting immediate effect would not be realistic," said the expert.
The summit's host Turkey, who has a long border with Syria and harbors some 3.5 million displaced Syrians, has forged strong economic ties with Russia in recent years, sparking concern among its NATO allies, especially the United States.
INCREASED TURKEY-RUSSIA COOPERATION DESPITE DIFFERENCES
In December 2017, Moscow and Ankara finalized an agreement for Turkey to purchase Russia's long-range S-400 missile defense system, a deal which raised eyebrows among some of Turkey's NATO allies.
Meanwhile, the first Turkish nuclear plant has started construction by Russia despite some setbacks. The two countries are also building the "Turkstream" pipeline to transport Russian gas to Turkey.
Last week, Turkey announced it would not be following NATO and EU allies in expelling Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.
Britain has accused Russia of being behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, prompting nearly two dozen of nations to expel over 150 Russian diplomats. Russia has responded by expelling a similar number of envoys.
Turkey condemned the nerve agent attack on British soil without naming Russia, adding that it enjoyed "positive" relations with Moscow. "Just because some countries took a step based on an allegation, we don't have to take the same step," Erdogan said.
Putin and Erdogan have met several times in the past years and regularly speak on the phone.
Russia and Turkey -- along with Iran -- are also working together to create "de-escalation zones" to reduce the fighting in Syria and bring the sides of the conflict together to negotiate over Syria's future. Turkey has until now built eight observations posts.
The cooperation comes despite their taking opposing sides in the Syrian conflict. Moscow is siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Turkey is supporting Assad's foes since the start of the Syrian war seven years ago.
Observers believe that this ongoing tripartite regional cooperation would suffice to resolve the complex Syrian crisis and its proxy wars.
U.S. DIMINISHING INFLUENCE IN SYRIAN CRISIS
However, a European diplomat told Xinhua that "an equation in which the U.S. and other western powers are not involved has very limited chance of success," reaffirming the importance of the Geneva peace talks for Syria and "for the objective of a negotiated peace."
In regard to this issue, Erdogan insisted that the trilateral mechanism is not something which would replace or substitute the Geneva process but will "contribute" to it.
Orhan admitted that it would be "fair to say that a plan without an American backing will not be realistic," but the trilateral dialogue is "somewhat of an infrastructure effort to be submitted at the Geneva talks, with key issues such a constitution respecting the territorial integrity of Syria."
The Ankara meeting came at a time when conflicting and confusing announcements have been made in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump surprisingly announced that he wanted the U.S. troops out of Syria soon, though having not set a timetable.
A White House statement released on Wednesday specifically defined the U.S. military mission to eliminate small Islamic State pockets in Syria.
Erdogan's senior adviser Ilnur Cevik said there is a "general positive mood that the light at the end of the tunnel is already visible," attributing it to the efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran, Daily Sabah newspaper reported.
Cevik said the three countries "have become peacemakers" in Syria, while the U.S., which failed to bring about peace to neighboring Iraq after invading it 15 years ago, will have to leave sooner or later.
Experts said the U.S. policy could suffer further setbacks in Syria with the tripartite efforts.