Moscow, Nov 22 (AP) The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran met today to discuss ways to advance a political settlement in Syria as the Islamic State group is nearing its defeat, while disparate Syrian opposition groups met in Saudi Arabia in a bid to form a united front for Syrian peace talks in Geneva.

“Militants in Syria have received a decisive blow, and there is a real chance to put an end to the civil war that has raged for many years,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the start of talks with Turkish and Iranian counterparts in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin noted that political settlement will require concessions from all sides, including Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Assad made a surprise trip to Russia late Monday for talks with Putin, which the Kremlin said were intended to lay the groundwork for the trilateral meeting Wednesday in Sochi.

Speaking after the three-way talks, Putin said that the Syrian leader pledged to conduct constitutional reforms and hold new elections under U.N. supervision.

In their joint statement after the talks, Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized the need for all parties in the Syrian conflict to release all prisoners and hostages, hand over bodies and search for those missing to help create conditions for lasting cease-fire and the launch of political talks.

“We have reached a consensus on helping the transition to an inclusive, free, fair and transparent political process that will be carried out under the leadership and ownership of the Syrian people,” Erdogan said.

Even though Russia and Iran have backed Assad’s government since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, while Turkey has supported his foes, the three countries have teamed up to help mediate a peace settlement.

They have sponsored several rounds of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Astana, Kazakhstan, and also have brokered a truce between Syria’s government and the rebels in four areas, helping reduce hostilities.

Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura spoke at the opening of a three-day gathering of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, where various opposition groups are expected to come up with a unified delegation and a vision for the November 28 Geneva talks.

De Mistura said he planned to have two rounds of talks in Geneva in December. He is set to travel to Moscow later this week.

“It is our common interest that today, you elect the best and most inclusive team among yourselves,” de Mistura said. “A strong, unified team is a creative partner in Geneva and we need that.”

The Riyadh meeting, however, has already been marred with disagreements. The notoriously fragmented opposition is divided by visions of a future role for the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad, the length of a transitional period as well as the constitution that will see the country move toward elections.

Around 30 various opposition delegations are attending the meeting.

The conflict in Syria, now in its seventh-year, has all but been frozen amid a series of cease-fires. A political solution has long been elusive.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in opening remarks that the opposition meeting comes amid international consensus to reach a resolution.

“There is no resolution to the crisis without Syrian consensus that achieves the demands of the Syrian people and ends their suffering,” al-Jubeir said, adding that a resolution must be based on U.N. resolutions.

Russia, which has welcomed the Saudi efforts to unify the opposition, will also be hosting a meeting in Sochi that’s expected to bring the opposition and Syrian government together in early December.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have pledged to help the success of that meeting.

Putin, whose military intervention in the war saved Assad’s government from imminent defeat, called President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el- Sissi on Tuesday to brief them on his talks with Assad and coordinate the planned peace efforts.

Putin’s broad outreach highlighted a key role Russia has come to play in the Syrian conflict and reflected Moscow’s desire to engage all key players.

Some of the opposition delegations in Riyadh are backed by Gulf countries, which had sided with the anti-Assad rebellion, while others have been backed by Russia. Another opposition group is backed by Egypt, which has also kept contacts with the Syrian government.

The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV said some members of the Russia-backed delegation withdrew from the meeting. A member of the delegation, Qadri Jamil, said they withdrew to object other delegations putting conditions on the talks, including limiting a future role for Assad. The Russia-backed opposition is promoting political reform under Assad’s rule. (AP) IJT

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.