Iran, Russia, Turkey presidents meet in high stakes summit

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met in a high stakes summit in Tehran on Friday to discuss the future of Syria as a bloody military operation looms in the last rebel-held area of the war-ravaged nation, each laying out terms and issues on the battlefield most critical to their own concerns.

Turkey’s president appealed for a cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib, saying a government offensive in the northwestern province would be a national security threat to his country and unleash a humanitarian catastrophe.

His call appeared to be at odds with statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin who said the Syrian government “has the right” to regain control over all Syrian territory, including Idlib.

The two leaders, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke at a summit meeting in Tehran to discuss the future of Syria as a bloody military operation looms in the last rebel-held area of the war-ravaged nation.

“Idlib isn’t just important for Syria’s future, it is of importance for our national security and for the future of the region,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“Any attack on Idlib would result in a catastrophe. Any fight against terrorists requires methods based on time and patience,” he added, saying “we don’t want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath.

“We must find a reasonable way out for Idlib,” he said.

Putin reiterated Russia’s stance that Assad’s government should be able to regain control of all of Syria.

“We should think together over all aspects of this complicated issue,” Putin said, speaking of Idlib. “We should solve this issue together and (we should) all realize that the legitimate Syrian government has the right and eventually should be able to regain control of all of its territory.”

Reacting to Erdogan’s proposal for the joint communique to call for a cease-fire in Idlib, Putin said “a cease-fire would be good” but indicated that Moscow does not think it will hold.

He warned militants in Idlib planned “provocations,” possibly including chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons in the long conflict.

For his part, Rouhani demanded an immediate withdrawal by American forces in the country.

The U.S. has some 2,000 troops in Syria. He added that “we have to force the United States to leave,” without elaborating.

“The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end,” Rouhani said.