Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a Russian envoy on Thursday that any rapprochement with Turkey must result in Turkish forces withdrawing from Syrian territory.
Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy for Syria, was in Damascus discussing Moscow’s efforts to broker talks between Ankara and Damascus. His visit came a few weeks after Moscow hosted the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers, the first such contact between Syria and Turkey since 2011.
Assad said that in order for these trilateral talks to be “fruitful,” the meetings should be based on “prior coordination and planning between Syria and Moscow.” He said the “occupation and support for terrorism” should be ended, referring to Turkey’s presence in Syria and its support for anti-government forces in the country.
There were rumors following the meeting in Moscow that Turkey agreed to withdraw from Syria, but sources told Middle East Eye that no deals were made, and there’s been no indication that Turkish troops are leaving Syria. But Turkey and Syria have both signaled they’re prepared for future talks, and Russia is trying to set up a meeting of the two country’s foreign ministers.
Reports have said the next meeting could happen in mid-January, but Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that a date hasn’t been set. “No, there is no concrete date yet. We have already talked about it, such a meeting is in the works,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled Wednesday that he expects more talks, saying that more Syrian refugees will return to Syria as the engagement develops. “The number of refugees returning to their country will increase whenever the diplomatic contacts that Turkey has been conducting for some time with Russia and Syria bear fruit,” he said.
The US is discouraging Turkey from its rapprochement with Syria and reiterated that it opposes countries normalizing with Assad. The US maintains crippling economic sanctions on Syria with the purpose of preventing the country from rebuilding. The US also occupies eastern Syria and backs the Kurdish-led SDF in the region, allowing it to control an area where most of the country’s oil resources are.