The withdrawal of US troops from Syria appears to have stalled, but Russia remains hopeful it will eventually happen, President Vladimir Putin said, commending his American counterpart’s effort to deliver on election promises.
The Russian president hosted Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani in Sochi, Russia on Thursday. The three leaders discussed their joint effort to further reconciliation in Syria, a goal that they assure is coming closer with every month.
The plans of US President Donald Trump to withdraw US troops from northern Syria and an apparent lack of delivering on it was a major point of discussion at the media conference attended by the three leaders. All agreed that the promised withdrawal will benefit Syria, but Putin seemed to be the most optimistic that the move will actually happen anytime soon.
“President Trump is quite actively working on fulfilling his election campaign promises, which in practice rarely happens in the US political life. The withdrawal of the American troops from Syria was one of those promises,” Putin said.
He conceded that opposition to Trump’s plans at home does not always allow him to carry out his plans, which may be what is happening with the announced withdrawal now. But eventually, Putin said, Russia expects the Americans to leave Syria.
“If that happens, the only right decision in terms of security would be handing over those territories under the control of the Syrian armed forces,” Putin stressed.
The phrase was also a nod to Putin’s Turkish guest, Erdogan, who earlier said that the pullout of US troops from Syria must not compromise Turkey’s national security.
“They are now saying the withdrawal may happen in April or May. And who knows what will happen then,” Erdogan said. “We don’t want any part of Syria to be given to terrorists,” he added, referring to Kurdish militias in northern Syria that Ankara considers part of the terrorist group operating in Turkey.
Iran’s Rouhani remarked that if the US were to withdraw from Syria, it would be very good news for the Syrian people – just as it would be with a hypothetical withdrawal from Afghanistan or Iraq – but he would not be holding his breath for either of those to happen.
“We believe the US should understand that the way they [are] asserting its influence in the Middle East is wrong. What they are doing benefits neither our people nor the American people,” Rouhani said.
The Sochi gathering was aimed at updating the plans of the three countries regarding Syria. Its focus now is on creating a constitutional committee, which would include representatives from both the Syrian government and political opposition and will be tasked with writing a new basic law for the country. Putin said this job was done better than expected so far and that it was up to other players to stop “sabotaging” the process.