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Putin says Assad, Iran, Turkey agree to Syria talks in Kazakh capital

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2016. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had all agreed that the Kazakh capital of Astana should be the venue for new Syrian peace negotiations.

Russia, Iran and Turkey held talks in Moscow on Tuesday after which they said they were ready to help broker a Syrian peace deal. Putin proposed holding the negotiations in Kazakhstan, a close Russian ally.

Russian air strikes were instrumental in helping Assad wipe out rebel resistance this month in the northern city of Aleppo, handing him his biggest victory in nearly six years of war and strengthening his negotiating hand.

Previous diplomatic attempts to end the conflict have repeatedly failed. Despite the government’s recapture of Aleppo, large parts of Syria are still controlled by insurgent and Islamist groups.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said he expected the talks in Astana to take place in mid-January. But TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying: “I wouldn’t talk now about timing. Right now contacts are being made and preparation is under way for the meeting.”

He said Putin would have a series of international telephone calls later on Friday to discuss the Astana talks. Speaking at his end-of-year news conference, Putin said the next step for Syria would be a nationwide ceasefire.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova, Vladimir Soldatkin and Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Peter Hobson; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Trevelyan