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News conference following a meeting of the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran

April 4, 2018, Ankara

Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani held a joint news conference following the second trilateral meeting of the heads of states, guarantors of the Astana process for facilitating the Syrian peace settlement.

President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (retranslated): Friends, President Putin, President Rouhani, ladies and gentlemen, I cordially greet all those present here.

In the presence of all our friends, I once again welcome my dear friend Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani to our country.

Today, we welcome our guests here at the summit, which is the expression of our efforts towards establishing security, peace and calm in Syria.

Last November, Mr Putin welcomed us to Sochi during the first summit to resolve the Syrian conflict. Today, we held talks and identified some steps that, we believe, will show us the way to the future of our region.

Turkey is strictly complying with its commitments regarding the de-escalation zones. Having recently established the 8th observation post in Idlib, we, I believe, have thus demonstrated our determination.

We hope that the entire world will pay attention to one point with regard to Syria. We believe that ensuring the territorial security and territorial integrity of Syria depends on whether we treat all terrorist organisations on an equal footing.

However, terrorist organisations that pose a threat not only to Syria, but also to Turkey and other neighbouring countries in the region, must be eliminated from the game.

As a result of the Euphrates Shield military operation, Turkey eliminated about 3,000 terrorists and thus demonstrated that it is doing more than others to fight the terrorist organisation DAISH.

However, Turkey is also a country that has sacrificed much during the attacks by DAISH.

A military operation codenamed the Olive Branch was equally important. During this operation, we fought against the so-called people's self-defence forces, YPG, which represented threats to Syria’s territorial integrity. We have liberated about 4,000 square kilometres from the terrorists. Thus, we are not only ensuring the security of this region but are building infrastructure in liberated areas and are returning these territories to their actual residents, the people of Syria.

Everyone is aware that over 3.5 million Syrian refugees are residing in Turkey. After liberating Jarabulus and Al-Bab, 160,000 Syrian refugees returned to the liberated territories.

Once we are done demining Afrin, we will also help rebuild the infrastructure. We expect hundreds of thousands of Syrians to return to their homes. Alongside our Russian and Iranian friends, we will work together to build the infrastructure.

As for, above all, the Manbij region, we would like to repeat that we will continue our operations until we liberate these territories from the YPG, the so-called people's self-defence forces.

The struggle against YPG, against these terrorist groups is no obstacle in the fight against DAISH, on the contrary, it adds to the struggle. These terrorist organisations, like DAISH, like the YPG and the so-called Democratic Union constantly complement one another and impede the establishment of peace and stability in the region. Attention should be paid to this.

First a terrorist organisation like DAISH is formed, then what looks like a fight against that organisation continues. The YPG and the “Democratic Union” seem to start fighting this terrorist organisation. But the thing is that the path is opened for DAISH precisely by the circles that want chaos to continue there. Allegedly the fight against DAISH continues, but then a second terrorist organisation is formed. We have special relations with the Syrian people, so what happens in Syria has special significance for us.

In the course of continuing Turkish operations in Syria we do everything we can to minimise civilian casualties. If one compares the fighting and liberation of cities from terrorist organisations with other operations, that is, when other forces are waging this kind of struggle, it can readily be seen that we do everything we can, we make every effort to minimise civilian losses. After these operations Syrian citizens in the liberated territories live in calm, stability and peace. On the territories controlled by terrorist groups, chaos and bloodshed continue, this is obvious. As guarantor countries we must ensure Syria’s territorial integrity and stop the bloodshed. The guarantor states have agreed on that for the sake of Syria’s new future.

As a result of this crisis and these clashes, the people of Syria and the countries in the region are the losers. And we all know who the winners are.

Ahead lies an arduous path, but we also see some success. We cannot leave the region to several terrorist organisations, neither Syria, nor the region as a whole. As guarantor states we will continue our resolute work in accordance with our common principles. We will not give in to provocations and fall into traps. The international community should also pay attention to this.

Once again I urge the international community to make every effort to ensure justice and a political resolution to the issues.

In conclusion I would like to once again welcome our guests to our country. I believe that our consultations and the measures and steps taken will benefit the oppressed people of Syria and the whole region.

Again, I would like to thank my dear friend Mr Putin and my dear brother Mr Rouhani.

I give the floor to President Rouhani. You are welcome.

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani (retranslated): In the name of God, the Most Merciful!

First, I must thank Mr Erdogan, the Turkish President, the Turkish Government and the Turkish people for receiving us and for the hospitality accorded to me and the other guests from Iran and Russia. Today and yesterday you received both Russians and Iranians.

In the last few years our region has been facing the very serious crisis that is called terrorism. Regrettably, these terrorists are supported by some Western countries. Certain states are funding them and equipping them with new weapons. These are the same terrorists that produced and sold Syrian oil, and destroyed Syrian museums and, unfortunately, freely sold the artefacts they found in these museums. It is highly regrettably but some super powers, including the United States, would like to use the terrorist groups of DAISH and Jabhat al-Nusra as an instrument of controlling this region.

Such large nations as the Iraqis and the Syrians have neutralised this conspiracy with the assistance of friendly countries. DAISH no longer exists as a force. There are leftover parts of it but they are no longer a force, not a big force. Now after several years of fighting the terrorists the region’s nations have more hope than before.

Meetings that determined how to resolve this crisis, led to a ceasefire and reduced tensions in four zones started in Astana 15 months ago in the course of the struggle against terrorists. The Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey played a very important role in the adoption of these decisions.

In addition to regular talks at the expert and ministerial levels, the first summit of the guarantor states took place in the Russian city of Sochi.

I can mention some very important results of this summit – the holding of the National Dialogue Congress between Syrian representatives of the most diverse groups, including representatives of the Syrian state and the opposition. This was the most important measure that we must promote and continue.

Other very important events have taken place since then. Some are positive, while others are, regrettably, very bad. But I am very glad that as a result of this, today the hopes of the Syrian people are greater than yesterday. They hope that peace will be established in their country and they will be able to return to their homes that will soon become safe.

I am very happy that today the heads of these three states held a second summit in Ankara. We discussed very useful issues and were very open in talking with each other. We talked about the future of Syria. The brightest moment today is that the leaders of the three states agreed to grant humanitarian and medical aid to the Syrian people. Today we have agreed as never before and are ready to help the Syrian people. I very much hope that these agreements will be carried out. I hope that we will still be able to help the Syrian people that are suffering today and need medicines and food.

In the opinion of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian issue does not have a military solution. We must resolve the Syrian crisis only by political process. All of us should help to end the war in Syria. We should continue the peace processes. We should do what we can for the refugees to return home.

The current humanitarian situation in Syria is terrible – I can express this in one word. We should all help so that the Syrian people feel at least a little safe to return home.

Let me emphasise once again that all of us should respect, as the most important principles, the territorial integrity, sovereignty, unity and independence of the Syrian Arab Republic. This is what the Syrian people want. It is necessary to fight terrorism and eliminate the remaining elements in Syria. What we must do today is help build the future of Syria. Not a single country has the right to make decisions on the future and destiny of Syria.

The destiny of Syria is in the hands of the Syrian people alone. It is the Syrian people that must ultimately choose a constitution and vote for their destiny at a democratic presidential election. The Three, in which we are the guarantors of the Astana process, will do all we can. I think the best holiday of our region will be the announcement of the end of the war. This will be the day when terrorists leave Syria and it will be open for a homecoming and be ready to hold free and democratic elections at which the Syrian people will be able to choose their destiny.

And once again I would like to thank Mr Erdogan for hosting this summit and also Mr Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, for his participation in this summit and for coming to terms in it. I am grateful for the agreements and hope that we will do everything to help the Syrian people and to establish peace and security in this region. God grant.

Thank you.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: I am grateful to Mr Rouhani for his wonderfulspeech and am now giving the floor to Mr Putin.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: President Erdogan, President Rouhani, ladies and gentlemen,

Our trilateral talks were held in a business-like and constructive spirit. We had an in-depth discussion on the main aspects of the Syrian situation, exchanged opinions on the further steps that must be taken to bring about a lasting normalisation of the situation, and reached vital agreements that were incorporated in the Joint Statement on the results of our meeting.

I would like to point out that the Joint Statement emphasises the firm resolve of Russia, Iran and Turkey to help strengthen the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, as my colleagues have said.

This position of principle is much needed today, considering the growing number of attempts to deepen ethnic and religious differences in Syrian society in order to break up the country and to preserve the conflict potential of the Middle East for years to come.

We have agreed to expand the entire range of our trilateral cooperation in Syria, primarily within the framework of the Astana process, which has proved its effectiveness more than once.

Thanks to close coordination between Russia, Iran and Turkey as the guarantor states of the Astana process, the level of violence in Syria has radically diminished. The main ISIS forces have been defeated, and the combat capability of the other terrorist groups has been seriously undermined. Refugees and internally displaced persons are returning to their homes, and the reconstruction of social and economic infrastructure is underway.

We intend to keep the focus of the Astana process on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis, or more precisely, promote an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

We believe that the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which has no alternative so far, are crucial for our purpose.

We discussed with our Iranian and Turkish colleagues steps on implementing the decisions of the Sochi forum as soon as possible. This includes forming the Constitutional Committee under the aegis of the UN in Geneva, within which the Syrians can independently determine the main parameters of state structure for a new Syria.

Humanitarian issues were a major part of our discussion. The participants stated that politicisation of this issue is unacceptable and that it is necessary to strictly comply with the UN Security Council Resolution 2401 that is aimed at alleviating the suffering of civilians in all of Syria.

We informed our colleagues about Russia’s efforts in this regard, in particular, the unprecedented operation in Eastern Ghouta on saving thousands of civilian lives and removing militants that refuse to lay down their arms. Humanitarian aid is regularly delivered to the area of hostilities. Some of it is paid for by the donations of Russian citizens. Thus, 77 tonnes of food and basic necessities were sent to Syria in February at the expense of religious groups.

Russia, Iran and Turkey will more closely coordinate their steps on resolving the humanitarian issues in Syria. This subject has already been discussed here. These three countries made a practical contribution to these efforts by establishing a working group in Astana on March 15. The group will deal with the liberation of hostages, the transfer of the dead and a search for the missing. Today President Erdogan proposed additional initiatives in the humanitarian area.

We also agreed to consolidate our efforts on the post-conflict recovery of Syria, primarily, the construction of social and infrastructure facilities. Russian companies are already taking an active part in this. Indicatively, they have begun some projects in areas that were only recently run by militants.

We consider our common strategic goal the complete rout of the terrorists that have not stopped their attempts to destabilise the situation on the ground and are still trying to derail efforts to promote the peace process.

They will not stop at anything. We have irrefutable proof that they were preparing to use toxic agents. In this context, we agreed to step up trilateral coordination in all aspects of anti-terrorist activity and increase information exchange.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all of my colleagues, President Erdogan and President Rouhani for these substantive and constructive talks. I am sure that necessary practical measures will be adopted following the summit and they will facilitate further productive work in the interests of lasting peace and stability in Syria.

As you know, ladies and gentlemen, along with the Russian delegation, I am in Turkey for the second day. On the first day we held bilateral talks as part of the official visit. The official visit was a great success. I would like to thank President Erdogan for organising our time during these two days.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Thank you, Mr Putin, for your remarks.

Yes, everybody knows that we laid the foundation of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Mersin yesterday. We took part in the ceremony together. The cost of the project will be around $21 billion. Inshallah, construction will be completed by 2023, the centenary of our Republic. Future workers have already started contributing to the project by continuing to study in Russia. They will be returning gradually and will work on this project.

We held a trilateral summit, and we all want peace and calm to prevail in Syria as soon as possible and to see a new and prosperous Syria. To date, together with non-governmental organisations we have invested $30 billion and these refugees live in camps, in containers. Now 160,000 refugees have returned to northern Syria, to these regions, Jerabulus, Al-Bab (2,000 square kilometres have been liberated). We have built social infrastructure there and refugees have returned.

As of now the European Union has promised some funds, but I can tell you frankly, unfortunately – they had promised at least 3 billion euros – the money has not come. If we get this money – or even if we don’t get it – all the same we will continue investing in the region. We think it is our duty to do this work.

And now as a result of the military operation in Afrin, Russia and Iran were the first to express solidarity. The relevant agencies, our ministers, chiefs of the general staff and intelligence chiefs were involved in this work and making efforts. I believe that we have laid the foundations of a peace infrastructure here. The first meeting took place in Sochi, the second was held here in Ankara and the third, Inshallah, we will hold in Teheran. No exact date has been fixed, but we will be working together towards the Teheran summit.

Now media from Iran, Russia and Turkey can ask two questions each.

Question: The need for the peace process, the political process has been mentioned many times. I would like to ask a question about the economic process. Early this year Russia signed a road map for building energy infrastructure. I would like to know if any steps have been taken and whether they have been taken by all the parties.

Vladimir Putin: Once again, and louder please.

Question: I said that a road map on energy matters in Syria was signed early in the year. I would like to know if all the participants are taking steps on the issue. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Honestly,I still do not understand what you have asked. Are you asking about economic recovery?

Remark: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: To be sure, this is the key issue. In addition to a political settlement, people must be able to live in normal conditions. Nothing can be done without massive capital investments, including from outside. So, we call on all the countries to get more actively involved in deed and not only in word.

Everybody is talking about the need to join the humanitarian relief effort for starters, but no one is doing anything practical except Iran, Turkey and Russia. We see minor supplies from the United Nations, but this is clearly not enough. And definitely there needs to be joint work to restore Syria’s economy, restore the infrastructure.

We very much hope that after the end of the political processes work to restore the Syrian economy will gain in scope.

Question: It is a little off topic, but still relates to the international agenda.

You already answered yesterday a question about the Skripal case. Your representatives, Mr President, said yesterday that Britain will now have to apologise. What kind of apologies do we expect? Simply, “Sorry, we made a mistake” or some official document, full restoration of cooperation? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We do not expect anything other than for common sense to ultimately prevail and for international relations not to be damaged the way we have seen recently. This goes not only for this case, the attempt on Skripal’s life. This has to do with other aspects of international relations as well. We should stay within the framework of healthy political processes based on fundamental norms of international law, and then the situation in the world will become more stable and predictable.

Question (retranslated): President Erdogan, I am from Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia and Turkey had two rounds of summits in Sochi and Ankara, they are addressing the Syria issue by political means. I would like to ask you the following question. These three powers are offering help to establish peace; however, the West keeps coming between you. Which conclusion have you drawn from the fact that they get in the way of your efforts to achieve a settlement and establish peace in Syria. What decisions did you take and what conclusions did you reach?

Hassan Rouhani: What we have seen so far is that the Americans, the Israelis were unsuccessfully trying to get in our way. I can say that in the past years they wanted the Damascus government to fall. They wanted it. They wanted to help terrorists so that they could govern the region, and they wanted to make it so that the threat would linger on till the present, as this would be in the interests of the USA and Israel.

They create a lot of problems for us. And not only for us but also for the Syrian people. But so far, they have not achieved any major success. Since the start of events in Syria, Iran has had only one position: terrorism must be countered and governments fighting terrorism should be helped. We must support the legitimate governments of these regions. Moreover, the geographical configuration of our region should not change, and the opinions of each people regarding the future of their countries should be taken into account.

This is exactly what we have agreed on today. The adversaries of our region planned to ruin Syria but they are failing, and we will not let this happen. I think they will not be able to spread terrorism throughout the whole region. We will shortly see security restored in the region with the help of the three nations – Russia, Iran and Turkey. With the help of these three powers, our region is becoming more secure.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Yes, undoubtedly, Syria’s territorial integrity is of great importance for us. There are certain circles that have divided this territory among themselves, but this will not do for us. We are not taking it seriously. The people of Syria have paid a huge price for that, but terrorism may not be used as a weapon against our country, we will never consent to that.

There is no other country that can be compared to us – we have over 900 km of common border with Syria. This is why all those attacks were staged against our country. And they did not stop at that. There were over 100 rocket attacks.

But how long can we tolerate this? Ultimately, as you all know, we launched an operation against the terrorists. First there was Jarabulus, and then, as is known, Operation Olive Branch. We have concluded this operation, and now Jarabulus and Al-Bab are liberated territory of 2,000 square kilometres where 160,000 refugees have returned. We have restored the infrastructure there. Those who lived in the refugee camps have returned home. The situation in Afrin will be similar. Those refugees, residents of Afrin proper, who live as refugees in our country, Inshallah, they will come back after the infrastructure is restored.

But I want everyone to know one more thing. We are carrying out the rebuilding process, all the three guarantor states. The process was launched, as you know, in Sochi. We – Turkey, Iran and Russia – will move forward together confidently. We have never said that the Astana process is an alternative to the Geneva process. No. It was complementary.

If someone claims that the Astana process is meant as an alternative, that is wrong. What matters for us is achieving results. We will take steps because we are obliged, we recognise our responsibility, we must achieve results to spare people’s lives.

We all know, we witnessed children die in Eastern Ghouta, children are killed there cruelly and ruthlessly. We cannot tolerate this. We are all parents. I am President of the Republic of Turkey. Such things are intolerable. We must be human, in my opinion.

Thank you very much.

Question (retranslated): I would like to thank the three presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey.

Before this summit some of the Americans said they would leave Syria soon. Indeed, the decision of the Americans may affect the events in Syria and the region as a whole. What do you think about these events? We would be very glad to hear your opinion on a response to these decisions. Thank you.

Hassan Rouhani: The Americans, the current US administration says one thing today and another tomorrow. It is impossible to rely on their decisions, words or statements. Every day there is a new person and every day there are new words. At first, they said they would leave Syria and then they said they would like to receive more money and demanded that other countries pay them to stay longer. We understand they want to milk some states in order to stay longer in the country. This is how this problem looks from the outside.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: My dear brother Rouhani does not mention the amount – seven trillion dollars. Can you imagine? It is necessary to return this money to the region. If this money is raised – the process will obviously be facilitated.

Let us turn to the Turkish press. Go ahead pleased.

Question (retranslated): A question for Mr Rouhani. Turkey has been receiving refugees for a long time. The European Union made promises but did not keep them. What do you think about its failure to fulfil its promises?

Mr Erdogan, Mr Putin said that Turkey has some new proposals. What are they?

Vladimir Putin: If some parties in international life fulfil or fail to fulfil their promises, you should address this question to them. We are trying to fulfil all that we promise. If we do not fulfil something we explain why we do not get it right, and when we will eventually fulfil what we agreed on.

Turkey is really shouldering a heavy burden in connection with the flow of refugees from Syria. But I must say that this is truly a unique situation. There is also a problem with refugees from Palestine and many countries are also carrying a heavy burden. Russia is carrying it because of refugees from Ukraine. It is necessary to settle conflicts and then there will be no refugees.

We met today in the trilateral format to resolve the Syrian problem and these issues. I hope that ultimately our efforts will produce positive results.

As for the proposals of President Erdogan, he suggested stepping up humanitarian efforts, in particular, pooling our efforts to help the people who need this aid, to use our medical services, our combat medics where we are already working together – both in the de-escalation zones and the country as a whole. We need to discuss all this in practical terms. I think this proposal is very timely and proper. The President of Iran, Mr Rouhani, supports it as well. We will address this issue and will definitely work to this end.

Hassan Rouhani: Supporting refugees and migrants from Syria is the most important obligation and not just for Muslims as an Islamic religious obligation.

I would like to thank all countries that hosted refugees and Syrian migrants, especially the Turkish people and the Turkish Government that are going through hard times because of refugees. Indeed, in Iran we know well how difficult it is to receive refugees. For almost 39 years over three million Afghan refugees have lived in our country and we understand the refugee situation perfectly well. This year over 400 Afghan children are studying in Iranian schools for free, and we have more than 20,000 Afghan students in our universities. So we know fairly well that these are difficult times. During the Iraq-Kuwait War we also received Iraqi and Kuwaiti refugees. We understand full well what hosting refugees means. The European countries should help. If they make promises, they should fulfil them and keep their word.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: As for the proposals made by Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani, I can also supplement them.

We can provide assistance – both the Russian Armed Forces and our Armed Forces – to the wounded arriving from Eastern Ghouta after the construction of a mobile hospital. We can also provide food relief. Maybe bread and other flour products for refugees are already being made in this region. We are granting them this opportunity.

However, I would like to emphasise one more point that I suggested to both Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani. I unveiled this same proposal earlier to the international community.

It is about the construction of housing in the safe area both in the north of Syria and on our territory. This means we will be able to ensure the construction, and the refugees will able to leave refugee camps and live under normal decent conditions in those safe areas, to improve their living conditions in housing in an area of 500 square kilometres, which matches local architecture. We can offer such an opportunity. By taking this step, we will be able to restore normal life for those refugees. Some countries made certain promises on this issue. But the point is that this step has not been taken yet. If we could undertake and implement it, this step will be good and significant, it will give an impetus to the people of Syria. And we will able to do good for Syria’s people.

Question (retranslated): Mr President, each time you express your resolve, and we should expect new operations against terrorist organisations. Did you manage to hold consultations on those operations with Mr Rouhani and Mr Putin during the summit?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Friends, the fight against terrorists, against terrorist organisations does not follow plans or schedules. We must take out terrorists wherever we find them. If terrorists are destroyed, stability and calm are ensured, which means we should not wait for some plan or schedule. But if there is terror, terrorists, the state is bound to do exactly that, the state should counter this activity. Turkey continues its fight both inside the country and abroad. Yes, the state is waging this fight. And this fight will continue until terrorism is no more.

Thank you for your attention.

April 4, 2018, Ankara