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News conference following the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France

October 27, 2018, Istanbul

Following the talks, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron held a joint news conference.

Press statement and answers to media questions by President Vladimir Putin

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The talks in the quadrilateral format were held in a business-like atmosphere. I would like to join our colleagues’ opinion and thank the Turkish leadership for organising this joint work.

We discussed the situation in Syria and did substantial work on agreeing approaches to the key questions of the Syrian settlement.

The Joint Statement we adopted reflects the commitment of Russia, Turkey, the Federal Republic of Germany and France to further expansion of cooperation in the interest of normalising the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, launching an effective intra-Syrian dialogue and conducting necessary government reforms and transformations.

Favourable conditions for that were created thanks to the work in the Astana format with the active involvement of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The larger part of Syria’s territory has been liberated from terrorists, and the country is gradually moving towards peaceful development.

All the meeting participants agree on the key point: long-term stability in Syria can be achieved exclusively by political and diplomatic means in total compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and with strict observance of the principles of the Syrian Arab Republic’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Importantly, it is the Syrian people themselves who must determine their country’s future.

It is in this context that we discussed the prospects for joining efforts within the Astana format and the so-called small group. In our view it would contribute to the launch of a real political process in Syria, and attract an increasing number of interested and constructive minded representatives of Syrian society.

Above all, it is essential to launch the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which is designed to consider the fundamental questions of Syria’s future state structure. The decisions taken at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi must be taken into account in this process.

Such a committee must undoubtedly be recognised as legitimate by all Syrian parties and enjoy their respect. Only in this case can the structure be viable and effective, able to prepare and conduct a long-overdue constitutional reform that will bolster Syrian statehood and unite Syrian society. This means that serious, meticulous work on shaping the committee lies ahead, and it must be effective. Russia, as a guarantor of the Astana process, will be actively engaged in it.

Even though the level of violence in Syria has decreased considerably, the elimination of the remaining radical elements remains a crucial task. We must not let the militants with combat experience continue their criminal activity, establishing sleeper cells in our countries, recruiting supporters and spreading extremist ideology and terror.

In this connection Mr Erdogan and I gave a detailed account to our European colleagues of the progress achieved in implementing Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib. We assume that the establishment of a demilitarised area as well as the de-escalation zone in Idlib is a temporary measure. We expect the Turkish side to make sure that the opposition withdraws heavy weapons and military units from the demilitarised area. We see that our Turkish partners are doing everything in their power for that.

In case the radical elements impede the implementation of this task, if they conduct armed provocations from the Idlib zone, Russia reserves the right to render effective support to the decisive actions of the Syrian government on eliminating this hotbed of terrorist threat.

A great deal of attention was given today to the issues of administering humanitarian aid to Syria’s population and assisting in the return of the refugees. Russia does a great deal in this respect but collective efforts of the global community are needed in order to radically improve the situation in that country, relieve acute social problems and restore the economy. By the way, there is an example of such positive joint actions: let me remind you that a joint Russian-French operation on delivering humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta was conducted in July.

We spoke at length about it today and came to the conclusion that the notion of humanitarian aid should be expanded to include deliveries of medical equipment, medicines, the restoration of the infrastructure and water supply.

We asked our partners to support the Russian initiative on organising an international conference on Syrian refugees. We are aware what it entails, we understand the problems but unless we work together, no results will be achieved.

Conditions have been created in the Syrian Arab Republic to accommodate up to 1.5 million people and the Syrian government issued hard guarantees of safety and non-discriminatory treatment of all those who want to come back to their homes.

Colleagues, we had very useful separate meetings at today’s summit with President of the Turkish Republic and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and we are still to have talks with the President of France.

To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to the partners for substantive and fruitful talks.

In closing I would like to thank Mr de Mistura for his work in this area. It was complicated, painstaking and highly professional work that demanded considerable efforts from the participants in the process and personally from Mr de Mistura. Thank you very much.

I would also like to congratulate the Turkish people on the upcoming national holiday, the Republic Day. The day after tomorrow marks the 95th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. I sincerely congratulate Mr President and the Turkish people and wish them happiness and well-being.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Question (retranslated): My question is, following Mr de Mistura’s visit to Damascus, Mr Foreign Minister made quite a harsh statement. How can you comment on this, Mr President? How are you going to convince Bashar al-Assad to establish a Constitutional Committee before the yearend? How will you persuade him?

Vladimir Putin: It would be counter-productive to tell you about all the ways and methods of persuasion of the Syrian government. In order to make this work successful, we need to act calmly and with due respect to the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic.

By the way, everybody says “Syrian regime” while the UN Security Council Resolution uses “government of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Proceeding from this, showing respect for the legitimate government on the one hand, but taking into account the need to establish a constructive dialogue with the opposition (and we always urge the Syrian government to begin such a dialogue), and using today’s declaration, which we together with our colleagues approved during the discussion, we presume that before the end of 2018, given relevant conditions, a Constitutional Committee will be established and will begin its work.

I would like to remind you that at the Syrian People’s Congress in Sochi the decision was made to establish such a committee. After this, we managed to agree with both the opposition and President al-Assad on the formation of two of its part: one from the opposition and the other from the Syrian government. Now we need to agree on the third part that will represent public organisations and representatives of various public institutes. It is a difficult job, because each party will try to involve people they trust.

However, if there is no trust in this structure, it will not be able to function efficiently. Undoubtedly, we should hold comprehensive consultations with both the Syrian government and our partners in Iran, because without Iran, which, as we know, is a guarantor of the peace process, the ceasefire and the creation of demilitarized zones, the problem cannot be resolved efficiently.

Question (retranslated): My question will be addressed to all the leaders, to Chancellor Merkel, President Putin and President Macron. In what context did you discuss the future political order in Syria? Did you cover Mr Assad’s involvement or non-involvement in this future political system?

Also, Mr President, if I may. Would you please clarify about Idlib? Are you happy with the execution of the memorandum you and your colleague, President Erdogan, signed in Idlib? Is there any risk of danger that would require solving the problem by force if no other methods work against the terrorists?

Vladimir Putin: Our principled position is that it is the Syrian people who must decide on the fate of their own country, including people on the political stage.

Certain conditions must be created, one of which is the start of a political process of forming the Constitutional Committee, and commencement of its work. These are the subjects we addressed today. Naturally, we did not discuss any personas. It is counterproductive if we want to achieve a positive outcome at the end of our journey.

As for Idlib, I said everything. I pointed out that Russia reserves the right to support the Syrian government if terrorists carry out acts of provocation from the Idlib zone. Only recently – and I informed my colleagues about this – Aleppo was subjected to artillery shelling from the Idlib zone. In the past one and a half to two months, our air defence forces shot down 50 aircraft near the Khmeimim base. But everything we do together with our Turkish partners, our friends in this situation, is in compliance with the goals that we set for ourselves.

We want to ensure the Idlib zone is de-militarised within 15 km to 20 km, free of any heavy machinery and various radical groups. This work is in progress; our Turkish partners are performing their obligations although we have not completed the full scope of the measures. We can see that it is a complicated job and we intend to further cooperate with Turkey on this matter.

Question (retranslated): Regarding drones, do Russia and Turkey conduct joint patrol missions?

Talks on the establishment of a Constitutional Committee have been ongoing for 10 months now. There was a list of possible candidates for the committee head.

De Mistura said in a statement today that he would leave his post in November. When do you think the next four-party meeting will be held? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We have not yet coordinated any meeting in this format. But anything is possible.

I believe that broader possibilities and a wider format of participants would benefit this process. Initially, it was the President of France who proposed combining the efforts of the narrow group, as I said before, with the Astana Process. The President of Turkey, Mr Erdogan, has supported the idea and proposed holding our meeting today. I believe it has benefitted us.

As for the form of this meeting. You said that we have not attained any practical results since the decision we made in Sochi. I would like to remind you that before the Astana process was launched the parties had not met at all for a year. The process was sliding. It is a very complicated process, and nothing was happening at all.

And then we initiated the Astana process together with the President of Turkey and the President of Iran and we set the process in motion. Things started happening and various proposals were made.

Holding the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi was not an easy thing to do. The preparations were very difficult. It is true that the agreements reached there are not being implemented as quickly as we would like them to, yet certain progress has been made already. We have convinced the Syrian Government to present their part of the list for the Constitutional Committee. Our colleagues, primarily the President of Turkey, did their bit as well. A list of opposition representatives has been compiled. Now we need to form the third component.

Yes, it is a difficult process. The committee must comprise those who are trusted by all parties to the conflict. But we must be patient and respect all the participants in this process. Only in this manner will we be able to succeed.

October 27, 2018, Istanbul