Turkish FM urges Russia over Syria peace plan

Russia must make Syrian regime avoid violating ceasefire, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu says during visit to UN HQ

Turkey’s foreign minister has called on Russia to keep the Syrian regime to its pledge of complying with a ceasefire that Moscow and Ankara jointly brokered.

During his New York City visit Thursday to meet newly-appointed United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters he was worried by breaches of the ceasefire, which was endorsed over the weekend by the UN Security Council (UNSC).

“They need to stop the regime and affiliated groups,” Çavuşoğlu said. “Everybody must keep their word, and show that they stand by the obligations they undertook,” he added.

The foreign minister said all of the violations were committed by the regime, adding that Ankara was doing its best to keep opposition fighters from retaliating. “However, this will be extremely difficult if the other side keeps doing this. We need to recognize this reality,” he said.

Turkey and Russia are guarantors of a peace plan that involves a ceasefire as well as a return to the political process between the warring sides after nearly six years of fighting.

It also calls a meeting between the parties in Astana, Kazakhstan — which recently became a UNSC member — ahead of a revival of the Geneva talks on Feb. 8.

Cease-fire violations in Syria are obstacle to talks

Çavuşoğlu also said the cease-fire violations in Syria are the main obstacle to holding peace negotiations later this month and he called on the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on those continuing the violence.

The Turkish Foreig Minister told reporters at U.N. headquarters where he discussed Syria with new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that if the talks go ahead in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana they will be based on a roadmap to peace agreed to by key powers in Geneva in 2012. It starts with the establishment of a transitional government with full executive powers agreed to by both sides and ends with elections.

Turkey, a strong supporter of Syria’s moderate opposition, and Russia, which backs President Bashar Assad, brokered the cease-fire which came into effect on Dec. 30, and has mostly held but not altogether halted fighting in the country. The government and opposition have blamed each other for violations.

Cavusoglu said monitoring centers in Ankara and Moscow have been collecting and reporting violations and the latest list which he received Thursday is “worrying me.”

While the government and opposition have various groups supporting them, the Turkish minister said, “when I look at the list today there is no single violation by the opposition.”

“All the violations, including the bombardments, are by the regime or its supporters or other groups,” Cavusoglu said. “This is not acceptable. So this is the main obstacle.”

Nearly a dozen rebel groups announced on Monday they were suspending talks about the negotiations because of cease-fire violations.

Cavusoglu said another obstacle is the composition of negotiating teams for the Astana talks, which under the deal that was signed, is up to the regime and the opposition to decide.

The Turkish minister said he discussed the U.N.’s role with Guterres and “the U.N. will have a leading role in Astana,” assuming the meeting goes ahead.

He said U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will be there. De Mistura has set Feb. 8 for the next round of U.N.-mediated talks on Syria in Geneva.

Cavusoglu said both sides, but especially the Syrian government, must respect the cease-fire agreement they signed.

He said there is work taking place on sanctions against violators.

“There should be sanctions because otherwise you cannot control this and you cannot go to the political talks, Astana or Geneva,” he said.

Cavusoglu said nothing has been finalized yet about sanctions, but “maybe we need another Security Council resolution.”