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Iran, Russia, Turkey in talks to harmonise Syria peace efforts

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Tehran (AFP)

Iran, Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in Syria's war, held talks Wednesday to harmonise efforts to bring peace to the country, whose conflict has entered its 10th year.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was "no military solution" for Syria, during the video conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced newly imposed US sanctions that he said were aimed at "suffocating" Syria, while Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for peace and security to be restored in his country's southern neighbour.

The talks were the first since September in the so-called Astana format, three-way talks between the key foreign powers in the Syrian conflict.

Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has called for the ouster of his regime and backed opposition fighters.

Rouhani told the conference that "the Islamic republic believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution."

"We continue to support the inter-Syrian dialogue and underline our determination to fight the terrorism of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group), Al-Qaeda and other related groups," he said.

"I emphasise that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general."

Putin raised similar concerns.

He said the objective of the conference was to analyse the situation and agree on steps "to ensure the long-term normalisation in Syria".

"Above all, it is a question of continuing the fight against international terrorism," he said.

"The most tense situation is still being observed in territories outside the control of the Syrian army, particularly in the de-escalation zone of Idlib and in northeastern Syria".

"We need to actively help advance an inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue," said the Russian leader.

Idlib is held by jihadist and rebel groups, some of them backed by Turkey, which has deployed forces in several military posts in the region as part of a 2018 deal with Russia.

- Sanctions to 'suffocate' Syria -

Putin also denounced as "illegitimate" a new raft of US sanctions against Syria.

He stressed "the negative impact of the sanctions put in place against Syria, bypassing the UN Security Council".

The Caesar Act, which took effect in mid-June, punishes under US law any company that works with Assad.

The measures have cast a cloud over efforts to rebuild the war-ravaged country.

"Despite the call from the UN Secretary-General for easing the pressure of sanctions under pandemic conditions, Washington like Brussels decided to prolong measures against Syria," Putin told the conference.

"In addition, new sanctions presumably aimed at economically suffocating Syria have been adopted."

Erdogan said Turkey's "fundamental priorities are to safeguard Syria's political unity and territorial integrity, restore peace on the ground and find a lasting political solution to the conflict."

"We will continue to do what we can to restore peace and security to our neighbour Syria as soon as possible," said the Turkish president.

After delivering their opening statements, the three presidents were to discuss Syria in private.

Putin said Iran, Russia and Turkey had drafted a joint statement "reflecting the harmonised approaches of the three countries towards further action".

"Among other things, it set out the task of destroying terrorist groups once and for all and advancing the political process," he said.

As well as Idlib, Turkey also controls a stretch of territory along its border in neighbouring Aleppo province following a series of military offensives since 2016.

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

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