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Russia, Turkey, Iran See U.S. Pullout From Syria As ‘Positive Step,’ Putin Says

Russia, Turkey, and Iran see the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria as a positive step, President Vladimir Putin said after a summit with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts on February 14 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian President Hassan Rohani agreed during the talks that a U.S. pullout from northeastern Syria "would be a positive step that would help stabilize the situation in this region, where ultimately the legitimate government should reestablish control," he told a joint press conference.

But Putin said no big changes have been noted so far that would point to a U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced in December that he will withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.

Putin said Trump was trying to fulfill his election campaign promises by ordering the troop withdrawal, but that he was not always able to fulfill his promises because of what Putin described as internal political issues.

The top U.S. commander overseeing American forces in the Middle East said on February 9 that the United States is likely just weeks away from starting the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria.

Rohani told the news conference that the U.S. presence in Syria and other countries was not useful.

"America should reconsider its Middle East policy," Rohani told the news conference.

Several rounds of UN-sponsored negotiations in recent years have failed to end the fighting, which has killed more than 400,000 people, displaced millions, and devastated historic sites across the country.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran are all deeply involved in the seven-year Syrian conflict and sponsor separate peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

Putin said the next round of Astana talks on Syria will take place in late March or early April.

Putin has called on his Turkish and Iranian counterparts to continue working together "actively and consistently" on plans to stabilize Syria after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

All three countries have deployed military forces in Syria and have said they want a political solution that brings an end to the war.

Moscow and Tehran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey and the United States back different rebel groups.

About 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been assisting a Syrian, Arab, and Kurdish alliance in the fight against militant extremists from the Islamic State extremist group.

Critics say Trump's announcement handed a victory to Russia and Iran. They also say a U.S. withdrawal will leave U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters at the mercy of Turkey, which considers them terrorists.

Speaking ahead of the Sochi summit, Erdogan said Turkey wants to move in coordination with Russia to establish what he called a "safe zone" in northern Syria.

Erdogan said Syria's territorial integrity cannot be guaranteed as long as the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia remain in the area.

Earlier, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Ankara would need approval from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to create any safe zone in Syrian territory.

"The question of the presence of a military contingent acting on the authority of a third country on the territory of a sovereign country, and especially Syria, must be decided directly by Damascus," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the three presidents would discuss the formation of a committee that would be tasked with drafting a postwar constitution for Syria.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.