Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said talks with foe Turkey should be based on the goals of ending the “occupation” of Syrian land and ending support for what he calls “terrorism,” a clear reference to Ankara’s forces and its support in northern Syria. For the rebels.
In his first publicly reported comments on the landmark talks overseen by his ally Russia, Assad also said “meetings between Syria and Russia should be coordinated in advance to deliver the clear results that Syria seeks.”
Assad made the comments, reported by Syrian state media, on January 12 during a meeting with Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s presidential ambassador to Syria, in Damascus.
Turkey has been the main backer of the political and armed opposition to Assad during the 12-year-long Syrian conflict and has sent its own troops into the country’s north.
Moscow has been supporting reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara, holding talks between their defense ministers last month and targeting meetings between foreign ministers and eventually the president.
Lavrentiev said Moscow viewed the meeting of defense ministers “positively” and hoped to develop the talks “to the level of foreign ministers”, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
Assad said results should be based on the principle of ending “occupation” and support for “terrorism,” a term used by Syrian authorities to refer to all opposition armed groups.
A source with close knowledge of the talks said Syria wanted Turkey to withdraw its forces from the northern regions and end support for the three main opposition factions.
Syria is keen to see progress on those demands through follow-up committees before agreeing to a meeting of foreign ministers, the source said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said on January 12 that he would meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in February, denying reports that the two could meet next week.
Syria has made no official comment on the timing of such a meeting, which would mark the highest-level talks between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian war began in 2011.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on January 13 that his country – Assad’s other main ally – was “happy with the ongoing dialogue between Syria and Turkey”.
According to the pro-government daily Al-Watan, Amirabdollahian will travel to Damascus on Saturday for talks with his Syrian counterpart.