Russia to coordinate with Turkey, Iran in Syria

AP— The Latest on Syrian president Assad’s visit to Moscow (all times local):

3 p.m.

Russia’s defense ministry says top military chiefs of Russia, Turkey and Iran have agreed to coordinate their efforts in Syria to defeat the Islamic State group.

The presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran are meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday for talks focused on war-ravaged Syria. The Kremlin has already said that the point of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s surprise visit to Sochi on Monday was to get him to agree to possible agreements that the three leaders might reach on Wednesday.

Iran and Russia have been Assad’s main backers while Turkey supports the opposition.

Pro-government forces over the weekend defeated the Islamic State group in its last major stronghold in Syria, leaving the militants to defend just strips of desert territory in the country and a besieged pocket outside the capital, Damascus

The Russian defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the chief of the General Staff of the three countries have met in Sochi and discussed “concrete steps to complete the elimination of the remaining IS and Nusra Front formations” in Syria. The three officials also agreed to improve coordination in a safety zone in the Idlib province in Syria’s northwest.

Russia, Turkey and Iran earlier this year brokered truce between the government and the rebels in four areas in Syria including Idlib.

1:10 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the Islamic State group has been “eliminated or minimized” in the region.

Speaking to a group of officials, Rouhani said Tuesday: “With the grace of God and thanks to efforts by regional nations, today we can say that this evil has either been eliminated or has been minimized.”

Also on Tuesday, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, chief of foreign operatives in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, announced the end of the Islamic State era in the region.

Iran provided military and economic assistance to both Iraq and Syria in the fight against IS.

All that remains of the so-called “caliphate” that once stretched to the edges of Baghdad are patches of territory along the Euphrates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.


12:50 p.m.

The Kremlin says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s visit to Russia is to ensure that he agrees to possible peace initiatives with Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Vladimir Putin hosted Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on an unannounced visit on Monday ahead of a summit in the same town between Russia, Iran and Turkey. This week’s visit is the second time Assad ventured outside his war-ravaged nation since the civil war began, both times to Russia.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that Putin had spoken with the leaders of Iran and Turkey to “assure them that Russia will work with Syrian leadership to prepare the groundwork for possible understandings” that could reached in Sochi on Wednesday to “make sure” that agreements reached will be “viable.”

Asked whether Putin and Assad have discussed the Syrian president’s future in post-war Syria, Peskov said “possible options for political settlement have been discussed.”


9:30 a.m.

Russian state TV is reporting that Vladimir Putin has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Sochi.

The report said the two leaders held bilateral talks on Monday and then met with Russian military chiefs.

It was the second time Assad has traveled to Russia to meet with Putin in the course of the country’s six-year civil war.

The first was in October 2015, shortly before Russia launched its military campaign in Syria to shore up Assad’s forces. The Russian intervention has turned the war in favor of Assad.

The meeting in Sochi comes a week before U.N.-sponsored peace talks are to resume in Geneva.

Assad’s office confirmed the visit on its Facebook page.

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