ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Turkey and Russia have prepared an agreement for a ceasefire in Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister said, adding Ankara would not budge on its opposition to President Bashar al-Assad staying in power.
The comments by Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday appeared to signal a tentative advance in talks aimed at reaching a truce, but the insistence that Assad must go will do little to smooth negotiations with Russia, his biggest backer.
Russia, Iran and Turkey said last week they were ready to help broker a peace deal after holding talks in Moscow where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to.
“There are two texts ready on a solution in Syria. One is about a political resolution and the other is about a ceasefire. They can be implemented any time,” Cavusoglu told reporters on the sidelines of an awards ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara.
He said Syria’s opposition would never back Assad.
“The whole world knows it is not possible for there to be a political transition with Assad, and we also all know that it is impossible for these people to unite around Assad.”
Last week, Russia’s foreign minister said Russia, Iran and Turkey had agreed that the priority inSyria was to fight terrorism and not to remove Assad’s government.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said earlier on Wednesday Moscow and Ankara had agreed on a proposal toward a general ceasefire. The Kremlin said it could not comment on the report.
A Syrian rebel official said meetings between Ankara and rebel forces were expected to continue this week, but could not confirm whether a final ceasefire agreement had been reached.
The official told Reuters a major sticking point in negotiations between rebel groups and Turkey was that Russia wanted to exclude the Damascus countryside from the ceasefire, but the rebels refused to do so.
A second rebel official told Reuters there was no agreement yet from the side of the rebel factions.
“The details of the ceasefire deal have yet to be officially presented to the factions, and there is noagreement so far,” the second official said.
Russia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the Syrian government was consulting with the opposition ahead of possible peace talks, while a Saudi-backed opposition group said it knew nothing of the negotiations but supported a ceasefire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia, Iran, Turkey and Assad have agreed that Astana, the Kazakh capital, should be the venue for new Syrian peace talks.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura had spoken by phone with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and supported the efforts to establish aceasefire and new peace talks.
The Syrian opposition’s main political body on Tuesday urged rebel groups to cooperate with “sincere regional efforts” to reach a ceasefire deal but that it had not been invited to any conference, referring to the Kazakhstan meeting.
The Turkish military said on Wednesday it had “neutralised” 44 Islamic State militants and wounded 117 as part of its operation in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab.
Rebels supported by Turkish troops have laid siege to al-Bab for weeks under the “Euphrates Shield” operation launched by Turkey nearly four months ago to sweep the Sunni hardliners and Kurdish fighters from its Syrian border.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow; writing by David Dolan; editing by Andrew Roche)