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Leaders of Russia, Turkey, Iran talk about stabilizing Syria

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, is flanked by Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, right, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a video conference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. In his opening remarks to the three-way summit between the Turkish, Iranian and Russian leaders, Erdogan said the three countries' aim was to protect Syria's political and territorial unity, to end the fighting on the ground and to find a political solution to the conflict.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

MOSCOW — The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran on Wednesday discussed efforts to stabilize Syria in a video call, emphasizing the need to promote a political settlement for the nine-year conflict.

Russia and Iran have staunchly supported Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the country’s war, while Turkey has backed his foes. However, the three countries have pooled their efforts to help end hostilities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the trilateral co-operation to help reduce violence in the country, but he also emphasized the need to deal with a few pockets of militant resistance.

“We need to think what other steps must be taken to neutralize the terrorist groups that are still active,” Putin said at the start of the video call, noting that the situation in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib and the areas east of the Euphrates River remain tense.

The Russian leader extolled Russia-Turkey co-operation to reduce hostilities in Idlib, noting “the situation in the de-escalation zone has stabilized considerably following the introduction of a cease-fire.”

In early March, an agreement between Turkey and Russia halted the Syrian government’s three-month air and ground campaign into rebel-held Idlib. The cease-fire has largely held.

Putin emphasized the need to help Syria rebuild its economy and encourage the return of refugees, criticizing the U.S. and the EU sanctions against Assad’s government as an attempt to “strangle Syria economically.”

The Trump administration this month began implementing new sanctions aimed at cutting off revenue for Assad’s government. The sanctions, known as the U.S. Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, are the toughest set of measures to be imposed on Syria yet, preventing anyone around the world from doing business with Syrian officials or state institutions or from participating in the country’s reconstruction.

Putin also spoke of the need to promote a political process, saying that “it’s necessary to help advance an inclusive dialogue between the Syrians within the framework of the constitutional Committee in Geneva.”

“We propose to support that process, help the participants meet and start a direct dialogue on the development of parameters of Syria’s future state order,” the Russian leader said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also underlined the need to find a political solution to the conflict. “I hope that during this meeting we will continue this impetus,” he said.

Last month, Geir Pedersen, the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, told the U.N. Security Council that he hopes that talks on drafting the country’s new constitution can be held in late August.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used the call to urge the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Syria to allow Assad’s government fully reclaim control of the country’s territory.

Some U.S. troops have remained in Syria to protect an expanse of Kurdish-controlled oil fields and facilities from falling into the hands of the Islamic State group.

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Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.

Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press