Russian and Turkish ministers meet for Syria talks

Russian and Turkish ministers meet for Syria talks
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar shake hands during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (Source: Vadim Savitsky)

MOSCOW (AP) — Top Russian and Turkish ministers agreed during a meeting in Moscow on Saturday to maintain cooperation in northern Syria as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw and Turkey threatens to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces controlling nearly a third of the country.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said before the talks began that they would focus on the situation in and around Idlib, as well as "what can and should be done" when the U.S. withdraws from Syria.

After the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that much of the discussion focused on the pending U.S. withdrawal, and that Russia and Turkey managed to agree on coordinating their steps in Syria "to ultimately eradicate the terrorist threat."

Turkey's official Anadolu news agency said the meeting lasted an hour and a half. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Russia and Turkey have a "shared will on cleaning Syria from all terror organizations," and added Turkey would continue its "close cooperation" with Russia and Iran in Syria and the region.

The Syrian military said it entered the Kurdish stronghold of Manbij on Friday as part of an apparent agreement between the two sides. The Kurds are looking for new allies to protect against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. forces prepare to leave.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, 2nd left, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 2nd right, attend a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, 2nd left, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 2nd right, attend a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (Source: Vadim Savitsky)

With President Donald Trump's surprise decision to withdraw troops earlier this month, Turkey announced it will hold off on a threatened offensive against Kurdish militants that it considers terrorists. It has, however, continued amassing troops at the border as it monitors the situation.

In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers gather near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP)
In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers gather near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP) (Source: AP)

The movements follow days of equipment transfers across the border into a Turkish-held area of northern Syria near Manbij. Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters said they have started moving along with Turkish troops to front-line positions near the town as a show of readiness.

In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers wait stationed near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP)
In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers wait stationed near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP) (Source: AP)

A statement released by the rebels said they are ready to "begin military operations to liberate the city in response to calls by our people in the city of Manbij."

In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers wait stationed near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP)
In this photo taken late Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers wait stationed near the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Syria's military announced Friday that it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive and raised the national flag there. (DHA via AP) (Source: AP)

Turkish news agency IHA showed video of at least 50 tanks arriving at a command post in Sanliurfa province early Saturday. The province borders Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates river in Syria.

In this March 31, 2018 photo, members of the Kurdish internal security forces patrol at a popular market, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this March 31, 2018 photo, members of the Kurdish internal security forces patrol at a popular market, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Source: Hussein Malla)

The Russian side was represented in Saturday's talks by Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu, and Kremlin foreign affairs aide Yuri Ushakov. The Turkish delegation includes Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

In this March 31, 2018 photo, a Syrian woman with her kids walks in front of buildings that were destroyed during the battle between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this March 31, 2018 photo, a Syrian woman with her kids walks in front of buildings that were destroyed during the battle between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Source: Hussein Malla)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Saturday that, in addition to the foreign and defense ministers of each country, the meeting was attended by intelligence chiefs from both sides.

In this March 31, 2018 photo, Syrian kids sit on their balcony apartment that was destroyed during the battle between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this March 31, 2018 photo, Syrian kids sit on their balcony apartment that was destroyed during the battle between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Source: Hussein Malla)

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not attend the meeting. Peskov said the two would later schedule a separate meeting.

FILE -- In this March 28, 2018 file photo, Syrians ride a motorcycle as they pass a checkpoint of the Kurdish internal security forces, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE -- In this March 28, 2018 file photo, Syrians ride a motorcycle as they pass a checkpoint of the Kurdish internal security forces, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File) (Source: Hussein Malla)

In Syria, opposition activists said the head of a local council allied with the Kurds was assassinated in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Marwan Fatih, head of the Deir el-Zour Council, was shot dead in the province by unknown assailants. The activist collective DeirEzzor24 said he was killed when a roadside bomb exploded on the highway linking the cities of Deir el-Zour and Hassakeh in the northeast.

In this March 29, 2018 photo, a Syrian student walks next a wall with Arabic that reads: "We will not emigrate we will confront, no to the Turkish occupation," in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this March 29, 2018 photo, a Syrian student walks next a wall with Arabic that reads: "We will not emigrate we will confront, no to the Turkish occupation," in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Source: Hussein Malla)

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In this March 31, 2018 photo, a member of the Kurdish internal security forces, center, patrols at a popular market, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this March 31, 2018 photo, a member of the Kurdish internal security forces, center, patrols at a popular market, in Manbij, north Syria. On Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Syria's military said it entered the flashpoint Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive -- a claim that was refuted by U.S. troops who patrol the town. The announcement and the conflicting reports reflect the potential for chaos in the wake of the U.S. surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Source: Hussein Malla)

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar attend a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar attend a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (Source: Vadim Savitsky)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, 2nd left, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 3rd left, and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar shake hands during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, 2nd left, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 3rd left, and Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar shake hands during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (Source: Vadim Savitsky)