Assad says Turkey talks must be based on ending 'occupation'

Syrian President said that there will be talks with Turkey about ending the occupation of Syrian land and stopping the support for what he called terrorism.

 A TURKISH soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria, in January 2018 (photo credit: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
A TURKISH soldier waves a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria, in January 2018
(photo credit: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said talks with foe Turkey should be based on the aims of ending the occupation of Syrian land and halting support for what he called terrorism, an apparent reference to Ankara's forces in northern Syria and its support for rebels.

In his first publicly reported remarks on landmark talks overseen by his ally Russia, Assad also said the meetings "should be coordinated between Syria and Russia in advance in order to... produce tangible results sought by Syria."

Assad made the comments, reported by Syrian state media on Thursday, in a meeting with the Russian presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus.

Turkey has been a major backer of the political and armed opposition to Assad during the 12-year-long Syrian conflict, and has sent its own troops into swathes of the country's north.

Moscow supports rapprochement

SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar Assad addresses members of his country’s parliament in Damascus in August.  (credit: SANA/REUTERS)SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar Assad addresses members of his country’s parliament in Damascus in August. (credit: SANA/REUTERS)

Moscow is supporting a rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, hosting talks between their defense ministers last month and aiming for meetings between the foreign ministers and eventually presidents.

Lavrentiev said Moscow viewed the defense ministers' meeting "positively" and hoped to develop talks "to the level of foreign ministers," Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Assad said the results should be based on the principle of "ending" the occupation and support for terrorism, a term that Syrian authorities use to refer to all opposition armed groups.

A source with close knowledge of the negotiations said Syria wanted Turkey to pull its troops from swathes of the north and to halt support to three main opposition factions.

The source said Syria was keen to see progress on those demands through follow-up committees before agreeing to a foreign ministers' meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad early in February, rejecting reports that the two could meet next week.

Such a meeting would mark the highest-level talks between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian war began in 2011.

There has been no official Syrian comment on when such a meeting might happen.

Iran 'happy' about dialog between Turkey and Syria 

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday his country was glad to see a rapprochement between its ally Syria and Turkey, which has backed the political and armed opposition to Damascus over the last decade.

"We are happy with the dialog taking place between Syria and Turkey, and we believe that it will reflect positively between the two countries," said Amirabdollahian, during a diplomatic visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut.