Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
This week saw an unprecedented amount of diplomatic discussions aimed at setting the stage for a settlement to the nearly seven-year conflict in Syria. The uptick came ahead of the eighth round of talks in Geneva and the first Russia, Iran and Turkey-sponsored all-Syria congress aimed at bringing together representatives from the Syrian opposition, government and civil society.
We’ve rounded up what you need to know about Wednesday’s simultaneous but separate meetings between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara in Sochi and the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s discussions with several heads of state, including U.S. President Donald Trump, and the upcoming talks on Syria.
Assad Visits Russia: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met his Russian counterpart in the Black Sea resort in Sochi on Monday. Assad reportedly met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for three hours to discuss a possible settlement to the conflict in Syria.
“Regarding our joint operation to fight terrorists in Syria, this military operation is indeed coming to an end,” Putin said
Assad also spoke to Russian military generals during his surprise visit to Sochi. “I have conveyed to [Mr Putin], and on his behalf to the Russian people, our gratitude for Russia’s efforts to save our country,” Assad told the Russian generals. “In the name of the Syrian people, I greet you and thank you all, every Russian officer, fighter and pilot that took part in this war.”
The visit – believed to be the second time the Syrian president has left the country since the war began in 2011 – came just two days before the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Sochi to discuss settling the conflict in Syria. Moscow had reportedly previously assured Iranian and Turkish leaders that it would “work with the Syrian leadership” to ensure any forthcoming agreement “would be viable.”
Syria On The Line: Putin and Trump then discussed a political settlement for Syria in a phone call on Tuesday. Putin reportedly informed Trump of the “need to keep Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity intact,” according to Moscow’s statement. The two leaders reportedly stressed the importance of U.N.-led peace talks in resolving the Syrian conflict, according to a statement released by the White House. Putin also on Tuesday also discussed Syria with a number of other leaders, including Saudi king Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reported.
Trilateral Talks In Sochi: The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey then met in the Russian resort town of Sochi on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the conflict in Syria.. Talks wrapped up on Wednesday evening with an agreement between the three countries’ leaders to hold an all-Syria congress aimed at “gathering delegates from various political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic and confessional groups at the negotiating table,” Putin said.
“The militants in Syria have sustained a decisive blow and now there is a realistic chance to end the multi-year civil war,” Putin said, according to the Guardian.
An official source at Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry told state-run news agency SANA that Damascus welcomed the final statement from Sochi, “in light of the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to support any political step that respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria and contributes to sparing the blood of the Syrian people.”
The congress is expected to take place in early December and assemble 1,400 delegates from the regime, opposition, and civil society groups, Syria expert Sami Moubayed wrote in Gulf News. The opposition has yet to issue a statement about the Sochi agreement.
Opposition Meets In Riyadh: Parallel to the Sochi meeting, Syrian opposition representatives gathered for their own set of talks in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) is hoping to form a stronger, more unified front ahead of the upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva.
Wednesday’s meeting came two days after Riad Hijab, top HNC negotiation, announced his resignation, citing attempts to force the opposition to come to terms with Assad’s survival.
“With his resignation, Hijab preempted the Riyadh conference on Wednesday, which was planning to form a (new) HNC, elect a new head coordinator, and form a delegation to Geneva talks,” a senior opposition official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another Round In Geneva: The eighth round of Geneva talks is set to kick off November 28. U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura previously stated that this round of Syria talks in Switzerland will focus on drafting a new constitution that would eventually allow for U.N.-verified elections.