In a move that sharply contradicted his earlier stance against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Turkey needs to take further steps in a newly announced process of reconciliation with the Syrian government.
Erdoğan told journalists accompanying him back home from a trip to Ukraine on Thursday that Turkey will need to take “further steps” with Damascus to end the “games” being played in the region.
“You have to accept that you cannot cut political dialogue and diplomacy between countries. There should always be such dialogue,” he added.
Turkey has strongly opposed Assad throughout the 11-year civil war and backed some rebel groups.
But Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu revealed earlier this month that he had briefly met with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Meqdad, in Belgrade last October — the first such meeting reported since 2011. Çavuşoğlu also reaffirmed Turkey’s call for the Syrian opposition to reconcile with Assad’s government.
The president also denied that Turkey had sought the removal of Assad.
“There was a fight against terrorism in all the steps we have taken in Syria, especially in the work we have been carrying out with the Russians in that region from the east and west of the Euphrates to the Mediterranean in northern Syria,” Erdoğan said.
He emphasized that they have no designs on Syria and respect its territorial integrity, adding that they currently host over 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey because of their ties to the Syrian people, especially in terms of religious values, and not because they want to be “constantly at war with the regime.”
“Maybe the process from now on will be much better,” Erdoğan said, hinting at normalizing ties with neighboring Syria after more than a decade.
Ankara backs opposition sides in Syria’s war. Damascus accuses Ankara of supporting “terrorist” groups in Syria.
Turkey has deployed forces in Syria in violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria in October 2019 after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters away from border areas.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
Syrian President Assad and other senior officials have said Damascus will respond through all legitimate means available to Turkey’s ongoing ground offensive.
The Hürriyet daily said in a report back in April, citing informed sources, that discussions were taking place in Ankara on restoring normal relations with the Syrian government.
“The balanced policy recently adopted by Turkey and the role that Ankara has played in recent months, especially in resolving the war in Ukraine, have made the current time appropriate for resolving the Syrian crisis,” Hürriyet said.