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Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran’s Zarif over Syria

ANKARA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday met with Iran’s foreign minister, who arrived in Ankara to brief him on his meeting with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey supports Syrian opposition rebels and Iran backs Assad in Syria’s long war, but the two sides have been expanding contacts amid international efforts to end the fighting.

Kazakhstan will host a fresh round of Syria talks on April 25-26 in its capital, recently renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan.

“I had a long interview with Bashar al-Assad. I will be giving details of these discussions to Mr. Erdogan,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in translated comments.

Ankara broke ties with Damascus in 2011 after the start of the Syrian war, and Erdogan has in the past described Assad as an “assassin”.

But Erdogan acknowledged in February that low-level contacts have been taking place and his rhetoric has also softened in tone in recent months.

“In Syria, from the start, on the ground, we do not agree with Iran on many issues,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday. “But we have decided to cooperate with Iran for a political solution.”

Repeated rounds of UN-backed Syria peace talks have failed to end the bloodshed, and Iran, Russia and Turkey have sponsored the parallel so-called Astana negotiations since early 2017.

Talks among the three countries have focused on the jihadist-held bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria, local Syrian media have reported.

That region bordering Turkey, is mostly held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and is in theory protected from a massive Syrian regime offensive by a Russia-Turkey deal.

The September accord aimed to set up a buffer zone around Idlib, but was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw.

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