Syria Talks in Russia, Saudi Arabia Aim to Unify Rival Sides

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, center, and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani pose for the media members in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 22. 2017. Leaders of Turkey and Iran have arrived in Russia's Sochi for the much-anticipated talks with President Vladimir Putin that are expected to focus on a political settlement for post-war Syria. Photo: Kayhan Ozer, Pool via AP

Russia, Turkey and Iran discussed ways to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria on Wednesday, including humanitarian aid, the return of refugees and prisoners’ exchange. Simultaneously, Syrian opposition groups gathered for talks in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to overcome differences in views and form a united front for Syrian peace talks in Geneva.

“Militants in Syria have received a decisive blow, and there is a real chance to put an end to the civil war that has raged for many years,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the start of talks with Turkish and Iranian counterparts in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Mr. Putin noted that political settlement will require concessions from all sides, including Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s government.

Mr. Assad made a surprise trip to Russia late Monday for talks with Putin, which the Kremlin said were intended to lay the groundwork for Wednesday’s trilateral meeting.

Speaking after the three-way talks, Mr. Putin said the Syrian leader pledged to conduct constitutional reforms and hold new elections under U.N. supervision.

“The process of reforms isn’t going to be easy and will require concessions and compromises from all those involved, including the Syrian government,” he said.

In their joint statement after the talks, Mr. Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized the need for all parties in the Syrian conflict to release all prisoners and hostages, hand over bodies and search for those missing to help create conditions for a lasting cease-fire and the launch of political talks.

They also called on other countries to provide humanitarian aid, clear Syrian territory of mines and restore vital infrastructure destroyed by the war.

“We have reached a consensus on helping the transition to an inclusive, free, fair and transparent political process that will be carried out under the leadership and ownership of the Syrian people,” Mr. Erdogan said.