Putin: Peace Talks for Syria to Be Held in Astana

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria have agreed to hold peace discussions in the Kazakh capital of Astana to resolve the conflict in Syria.

Speaking at his annual, end-of-the-year news conference, Putin said the recent evacuation of Aleppo was “the largest international humanitarian operation in the modern world” and would not have been possible without the “active involvement” of Russia, Turkey, Iran and “the goodwill of and the work carried out by Syrian President Assad.”

Putin said the next step for Syria should be a nationwide cease-fire.

The peace talks in Astana are expected to be held in January.

The war-torn city of Aleppo has been recaptured, the Syrian army says, marking its biggest victory in the nearly six-year civil war.

“The restoration of security and stability to Aleppo is a victory which forms a strategic juncture and important turning point in the fight against terrorism, from one point, and a blow to the terrorist project and its supporters from another,” the army’s general command said in a statement posted on the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has full control of the massive city of Aleppo for the first time since 2012.

The rebel forces agreed to withdraw from the city after a month-long army offensive drove them from 90 percent of their original territory.

Evacuees from the Shi'ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya ride a bus at insurgent-held al-Rashideen in the province of Aleppo, Dec. 22, 2016.

Evacuees from the Shi’ite Muslim villages of al-Foua and Kefraya ride a bus at insurgent-held al-Rashideen in the province of Aleppo, Dec. 22, 2016.

The announcement came hours after the last convoy of residents was reported leaving the city, the last of a week-long evacuation effort.

The United States remains wary of the victory, citing reports of increased violence in other parts of the country as well as the future of those evacuated from Aleppo.

“Certainly seeing these reports that they are claiming to have all of Aleppo, I am in no position to dispute that,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “But they bear responsibility for what they did to Aleppo and Aleppo’s citizens.”

The United Nations also echoed concerns over increased violence elsewhere in Syria. Speaking in Geneva Thursday, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that Idlib, where many evacuees have gone, “could be in theory the next Aleppo.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said by Thursday about 34,000 people had left eastern Aleppo, which rebels held for four years in their effort to push Assad from office.