Sochi Summit Supports 'Syrian dialogue' Over New Constitution, Elections

Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran meet in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran meet in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
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Sochi Summit Supports 'Syrian dialogue' Over New Constitution, Elections

Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran meet in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hassan Rouhani of Iran meet in Sochi, Russia, November 22, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Turkish Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced consensus of the guarantor states over the most important steps in the Syrian file, in remarks following the tripartite summit held on Wednesday in the city of Sochi, with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts; Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani respectively.

In their statements, the three presidents pointed out that military operations against terrorism in Syria had practically ended and that the degree of violence in the country had been greatly reduced, thanks to their efforts in sponsoring the Astana process and the establishment of de-escalation zones, which they said had contributed to preserving Syrian unity and sovereignty.

The leaders emphasized the need to cooperate on the Russian initiative to hold a comprehensive national dialogue conference in Sochi.

They also outlined the next stage in the areas of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Syrian economy and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Putin said that participants in the summit have emphasized the success of operations against terrorism in Syria, which “marks the beginning of a new stage that paves the way for comprehensive settlement and the political reconstruction of Syria in the post-crisis period.”

The Russian president stressed that the three countries assigned their ministries of foreign affairs, defense ministries and security institutions “to work to determine the structure and date of the [Syrian national] conference”, to be held in Sochi, with the participation of all forces, political parties, internal opposition and the ethnic and religious components of the Syrian society.

He added that the conference would allow “Syrians to discuss the main issues on the national agenda, primarily the future structure of the state and the adoption of a new constitution based on internationally-sponsored elections.”

Putin also said he briefed his Turkish and Iranian counterparts on the results of his talks with the head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad in Sochi.

The Iranian president said the aim of the tripartite summit in Sochi was to discuss peace in Syria and create conditions for the return of refugees.

Erdogan, for his part, said participants in the summit have agreed on the need to provide assistance to launch a broad, fair and free political process, led by the Syrians, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.



South Korea, US Sound Alarm over North Korea-Russia Ties ahead of Putin Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AFP)
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South Korea, US Sound Alarm over North Korea-Russia Ties ahead of Putin Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AFP)

A possible impending visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korea could deepen military ties between the two countries in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, officials of South Korea and the United States warned on Friday.
South Korea's vice foreign minister, Kim Hong-kyun, in an emergency phone call with US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, said Putin's visit should not result in more military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow in violation of the resolutions, according to Seoul's foreign ministry.
Echoing Kim's concerns, Campbell pledged continued cooperation to tackle potential regional instability and challenges caused by the trip, Reuters reported.
"While closely monitoring related developments, the two sides agreed to resolutely respond through airtight cooperation to North Korea's provocations against South Korea and actions that escalate tensions in the region," the ministry said in a statement.
On Wednesday, a senior official at Seoul's presidential office said Putin was expected to visit North Korea "in the coming days". Russia's Vedomosti newspaper on Monday reported Putin would visit North Korea and Vietnam in the coming weeks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday declined to give a date or agenda for a possible visit but said Russia's right to develop closer ties with North Korea should not be in doubt or a source of fear for anyone.
GROWING PARTNERSHIP
Russia has used North Korean-made missiles and artillery shells to attack targets in Ukraine, officials in Washington, Seoul, and Kyiv, as well as United Nations sanctions monitors and independent experts have said.
North Korea and Russia have denied arms deals but vowed to deepen cooperation across the board, including in military relations.
Speaking at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington on Wednesday, Campbell said the United States has a very good understanding of what North Korea has provided Russia, which he said has had "a substantial impact on the battlefield".
Less clear, he said, is what Russia has provided North Korea.
"Hard currency? Is it energy? Is it capabilities that allow them to advance their nuclear or missile products? We don't know. But we're concerned by that and watching carefully," he said.
In testimony in March to Congress, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that Russia has been forced by its need for support in its war against Ukraine to grant some “long-sought concessions” to North Korea, as well as China and Iran “with the potential to undermine, among other things, long-held non-proliferation norms”.
Haines did not elaborate on her statement, but the reference to weakening non-proliferation norms appeared to be a warning that Russia could provide North Korea with military-related technology.
This growing cooperation and willingness to exchange aid in military, economic, political, and intelligence matters enhances their individual capabilities, assists them to undermine the rules-based order, and gives them some insulation from international pressure, she continued.
The US intelligence community assesses, however, that these relationships – including that between Moscow and Pyongyang - will remain "far short” of formal alliances because parochial interests and wariness of each other will most likely limit their cooperation, Haines said.
POSSIBLE PREPARATIONS
Civilian aircraft have been cleared from Pyongyang's airport and there are signs of preparations for a possible parade in the capital's Kim Il Sung Square, NK Pro, a Seoul-based website, reported this week, citing commercial satellite imagery.
"It remains possible that the parade or large event will not coincide with Putin’s visit, but as Kim is likely to treat their summit with great importance, it’s also possible North Korea could put on a special event to celebrate Russian-DPRK ties at the square," wrote Colin Zwirko, a senior analytical correspondent with NK Pro.
In past instances, such preparations were made only days before the event, he added.
When Sergei Shoigu, then Russia's defense minister, visited Pyongyang last year to jumpstart the two countries' warming ties, he accompanied Kim to a parade and saluted as North Korea's banned nuclear-tipped missiles rolled by.