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Putin, Erdogan plan meeting ‘soon’ on US plan to exit Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Johannesburg, July 26, 2018. (en.Kremlin.ru/Released)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are planning to meet “soon” to discuss the announced departure of U.S. troops from Syria, where both countries also have a strong military presence.

Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu reported on January 6 that the meeting is expected to take place this month, although a date has not yet been set.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the two leaders intend to hold talks “soon” but that the exact date has not yet been set.

Putin and Erdogan last met on December 1 at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.

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Foreign and defense ministers from the two countries met in Moscow at the end of December to discuss Syria.

Syria has been engulfed in a seven-year civil war. Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Turkey back differing antigovernment fighters.

The U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, said he would discuss U.S. plans when he meets Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan in Turkey on January 8.

Those meetings will follow talks, also focusing on Syria, that Bolton is holding in Israel, where he said the U.S. pullout was conditional on Turkish guarantees in regard to U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

President Donald Trump on December 19 surprised U.S. lawmakers and many military leaders when he announced he would pull all 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria, where they have been assisting a Kurdish militia in rooting out IS fighters from that country.

Many supporters, critics, and international allies expressed shock over the decision, saying it would hand Russia and Iran a victory and leave the Kurds at the mercy of Turkish forces.

Ankara sees the U.S.-backed YPG militia in Syria as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and has vowed to crush it.

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Trump was not specific about a time frame, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters after Trump that the president was committed to making sure Turkey did not clash with the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG forces once U.S. troops leave Syria.

Israel has expressed concerns that a U.S. pullout from Syria could allow Iran to consolidate its presence there and pose a risk to its security.

On January 6 in Jerusalem, Bolton said the U.S. decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria was conditional on Turkey ensuring the safety of Kurds in Syria.

Asked if a U.S. pullout would be halted if Turkey could not guarantee the Kurdish fighters would be safe, Bolton said: “Basically, that’s right.”

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum,” Bolton said.

It must be assured, he added, that any Turkish military actions will not “endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

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