Turkey, Russia push for truce in Syria by 2017

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Fighting in Syria could stop “at any moment,” even before New Year’s Eve, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the media. With details on the deal still sketchy, both the rebels and the regime remain wary.

Moscow and Istanbul aim to establish a nationwide truce in Syria in the coming days, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

The two countries would serve as “guarantors in the agreement being worked on in Ankara,” he told A Haber television.

“We are planning to secure this before the beginning of the New Year,” he said, adding that the ceasefire could be implemented “at any moment.”

Ankara has hosted a number of talks between Russia and Syrian rebels in recent weeks. On Wednesday, a Turkish state news agency reported that Ankara and Moscow had reached an agreement and would present it to warring sides next month, at scheduled negotiations in Kazakhstan.

However, officials from Russia, Turkey, and the Syrian regime did not immediately offer details on the plan. Rebel representatives also said there were some obstacles that still needed to be overcome before they would agree to a truce.

United States not at the table

In the Thursday interview, Turkey’s Cavusoglu said that all foreign fighters would need to leave Syria. He specifically named the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, an ally to President Bashar al-Assad.

Cavusoglu also said it was “out of the question” for Turkey to hold any direct talks with Assad.

According to sources cited by Reuters news agency, the deal would allow Assad to stay on as president until the next election, when he would quit, with guarantees in place for him and his family. Reuters also reported that Iran, another powerful ally of Assad, is not yet completely onboard with this plan.

The upcoming negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, would serve as a “complementary step” to the UN-backed peace effort centered in Geneva, Cavusoglu said. The Kazakhstan talks would not include the United States.

Russian sources have said the first step to achieving peace would be to implement the ceasefire before the talks start. After that, the officials would try to enlist the help of Gulf states, then the US, and finally the European Union.

dj/sms (AFP, Reuters)