Putin agrees with Turkey, Iran to tackle terror in Syria in rare foreign trip

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterparts from Turkey and Iran pledged to continue cooperating to “eliminate terrorists” in Syria.

Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made the promise in a joint written declaration after a summit in Tehran on Tuesday.

Putin’s trip to Tehran is only his second foreign visit since his invasion of Ukraine in late February. The other was to Central Asia. He considers Erdoğan, who leads a NATO member country, and Raisi as allies in the Middle East. The three are cooperating on Syria under the so-called Astana peace process.

The three leaders vowed to "to ultimately eliminate terrorist individuals, groups, undertakings and entities.” The document was drawn up and signed after a request from Erdoğan, according to Agence France-Presse and other news wires.

Erdoğan says he plans to launch a military incursion into Syria to wrest territory from the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdoğan says the YPG are terrorists and are linked to the autonomy-seeking militant group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.

The three leaders also opposed “the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to Syria” in a veiled criticism of the United States, which has helped secure oil wells in northeast Syria alongside the SDF. The SDF has proven a key ally to Washington in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).

“As Türkiye, we see no difference between terrorist organisations such as DAESH (ISIS) or the PKK/PYD/YPG. We reject the rationale of using one as a proxy to fight the other,” Erdoğan said at a joint summit press conference. “Our fight against terrorist organisations will continue permanently without caring where they operate and who supports them.”

The three leaders said they "rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism, including illegitimate self-rule initiatives, and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas" in Syria.

Erdoğan, who has developed close relations with Putin over the past five years and has refused to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation against the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration governing oil-rich northeast Syria. The plans have drawn criticism from the United States and Moscow. The Kurds say they are committed to Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkey has carried out a succession of attacks against Kurdish fighters in Syria since 2016. It also stations troops in the region of Idlib in support of Islamist militant groups battling the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Iran and Russia support Assad and have sought to eliminate the threat to Assad’s rule posed by the Islamists, the regime’s last major opponents.

"It should be clearly understood that there is no room in our region's future for separatist terror groups," Erdoğan said at the summit. "We will continue our fight against terrorist organisations.”

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Erdoğan prior to the trilateral summit that another Turkish offensive against the Kurds would be "detrimental" for the region. Khamenei called for Turkey to resolve the issue through dialogue with Damascus, Moscow and Tehran. Erdoğan has said his patience has run out after the United States and Russia failed to honour commitments to push the Kurds back from Turkey’s border.

Turkey also keeps troops in northern Iraq to battle the PKK, drawing condemnation from the government in Baghdad. Ankara says its troops are in the country to exercise rights to self defence under U.N. charters.

Erdoğan also held bilateral talks with Putin, during which the two leaders discussed a plan to free up Ukrainian grain exports.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations were expected to sign a deal later this week to resume the shipments from Ukraine across the Black Sea.

There has been incremental progress in the talks, “but nothing to announce at this stage", U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Monday. 

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