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Putin And Erdogan Agree On Normalization Of Relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed that their countries have overcome a period of difficulties in bilateral relations and have returned to "normal partner interaction."

"Some time ago, our bilateral relations were tested for their strength," Putin told a press conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi following his meeting with Erdogan. "Now we can confidently say that the restoration period in Russian-Turkish relations has been completed and we are returning to normal partner interaction."

Before the meeting, Putin hailed the restoration of what he called "full-format" relations.

Relations between Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the Syrian war, have been strained since a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2015.

Erdogan told journalists that he and Putin agreed on May 3 to lift all remaining trade restrictions, except for a ban on imports of Turkish tomatoes to Russia.

Erdogan said he thinks "temporary solutions" could be found to address that issue as well.

It was not immediately clear when the sanctions would be lifted. Turkey recently imposed what amounts to an effective 130 percent import tax on Russian products, including wheat, in a bid to help its importers. Related: 16th Straight Build In Oil Rig Count Increases Pressure On Oil Prices

Following the summit, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said Russian wheat exports to Turkey could resume within days, while the restrictions on Turkish tomatoes would remain in effect "in some form" for at least three years.

The leaders also discussed the possible purchase by Turkey, a NATO member, of Russia's advanced S-400 antimissile system.

Erdogan invited Putin to attend a summit of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Istanbul on May 22. Putin responded that Russia would send an appropriate delegation.

Putin also noted an increase of Russian tourism in Turkey, saying that one-third of Russians going abroad during May holidays in 2017 are travelling to Turkey.

He offered Russian assistance to help Turkey combat terrorism that targets its tourist infrastructure.

The Russian president also said it was necessary to "improve cooperation" between the two countries' security forces before a visa-free travel regime could be implanted.

"We are ready for this decision," Putin said.

Syria Peace Talks

The two leaders also discussed the ongoing war in Syria.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran have been brokering Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan and are serving as "guarantors" of Syria's shaky cease-fire.

Russia and Iran are major military backers of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whereas Turkey supports some opposition groups that are trying to overthrow the government. Related: All Eyes On Saudi Arabia As OPEC Begins To Unravel

The latest round of the peace talks began on May 3, but opposition representatives declared they were halting participation over continued government attacks in Syria.

The opposition delegates at the Astana talks also said Russia's current proposals for creating "safe zones" in Syria were not acceptable, adding that they would seek clarification about details of the plan from Russian representatives in Astana.

Putin and Erdogan have both expressed support for creating "safe zones" – or "zones of de-escalation" -- in Syria as a measure to relieve the humanitarian crisis in the country. Putin said that such zones should be no-fly zones as well.

He added that, following his telephone conversation on May 2 with U.S. President Donald Trump, he thinks the United States also "backs these ideas."

By RFE/RL

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