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Russia, Turkey, Iran Agree On Borders Of Syrian 'De-Escalation Zones'

Alexander Lavrentyev (center), Russia's chief negotiator at the Syrian peace talks in Astana, on September 14

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Negotiators from the three countries sponsoring Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, say they have reached an agreement to set up de-escalation zones in Syria for six months.

The negotiators from Russia, Turkey, and Iran said in a joint statement on September 15 that the zones would include, either fully or partly, Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside, and the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama.

The statement said the six-month term could be extended in the future.

The announcement came after Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Russia, Iran, and Turkey had resolved disagreements about the borders of a fourth "de-escalation zone" in Syria's northern province of Idlib.

That report said delegates still need to discuss which forces would be deployed in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which includes territory under the control of a Syrian rebel alliance led by a former Al-Qaeda offshoot, the Al-Nusra Front.

Turkey's pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said in an unsourced report on September 15 that the three countries plan to divide the Idlib zone into three areas.

It said the plan called for Turkish forces and moderate opposition fighters in the Free Syrian Army to patrol the northwest part of the region bordering Turkey.

It said Iranian and Syrian army forces would be deployed to the southeast, with Russian forces in between those two areas.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran are sponsors of the Astana talks on Syria, which are separate from United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva.

The three countries signed a memorandum in May that called for the creation of the four de-escalation zones.

Russia has moved to establish three of them and there has since been a drop in violence between combatants.

But differences over the borders of the fourth proposed de-escalation zone have prevented the signing of a formal agreement on the creation of all four zones.

The U.S. State Department has said that Washington "remains concerned with Iran's involvement as a so-called 'guarantor' of the Astana process."

The U.S. government is concerned about calls for Iranian forces to also be deployed as cease-fire monitors.

It says Iran's "activities in Syria and unquestioning support" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government "have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians."

Some Syrian opposition fighters also have rejected the idea of Iranian forces being given a role as cease-fire monitors, saying they are not neutral forces.

With reporting by Reuters, Anadolu, Yeni Safak, AP, AFP, Kazinform, TASS, Izvestia, Interfax, and RIA Novosti