- Associated Press - Monday, February 11, 2019

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - The Russian and Turkish defense ministers have stressed the need to continue military and intelligence cooperation to ensure stability in Syria’s Idlib province despite “provocations” there, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Monday.

Russia’s Sergei Shoigu held talks with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in Ankara ahead of a meeting between the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday.

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, and Turkey, which supports the opposition, brokered a cease-fire in September for Idlib, the last major stronghold of Syria’s rebels. The agreement averted a major government offensive, but has come under strain in recent weeks as al-Qaida-linked militants have seized towns and villages from rival insurgents.

The Turkish statement said Shoigu and Akar “exchanged views on measures to ensure security in the de-escalation zone in Idlib.”

It also said the sides had a “mutual understanding” toward overcoming Turkey’s security concerns stemming from the presence of Kurdish militia forces in Manbij and regions east of the river Euphrates.

The Kurdish forces allied with the United States against the Islamic State group and helped drive the extremists from much of northern and eastern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Earlier, Shoigu said the two countries’ experts have done “a lot of work to coordinate on issues related to the stabilization in Idlib and issues related to the east bank of the Euphrates River.”

Akar hailed the talks as an “important contribution to the peace and stability of the region.”

Russia and Turkey share a strong opposition to the U.S. military presence in Syria and are coordinating their actions ahead of the planned withdrawal of American forces.

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