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FM says Turkey has no preconditions for dialogue with Syria

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Turkey has no preconditions for dialogue with the Syrian government, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday, in a further softening of Ankara’s stance towards Damascus after a decade of hostility, Reuters reported.

Turkey has backed rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and cut diplomatic relations with Damascus early in the 11-year conflict.

But the two countries’ intelligence chiefs have maintained contact, and recent comments from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government suggest a move towards political engagement, alarming Assad’s opponents in the remaining pocket of rebel-held Syria.

Çavuşoğlu said two weeks ago that the Syrian opposition and government must be brought together for reconciliation, and Erdoğan said diplomatic relations could never be fully cut.

After visiting Russia, which has strongly backed Assad, Erdoğan said President Vladimir Putin had suggested that Turkey cooperate with the Syrian government along their joint border, where Erdoğan is planning a further military incursion against Syrian Kurdish fighters he says pose a security threat.

Turkey, which has carried out four military operations in northern Syria since 2016, says it is creating a safe zone where some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it is currently hosting could return.

‘No conditions for dialogue’

Asked about the prospect for any talks, Çavuşoğlu said they would need to have specific goals.

“There cannot be a condition for dialogue, but what is the aim of these contacts? The country needs to be cleared of terrorists. … People need to be able to return,” Çavuşoğlu told broadcaster Haber Global.

“No conditions for dialogue, but what is the aim, the target? It needs to be goal-oriented,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu revealed earlier this month that he briefly spoke with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad last year on the sidelines of an international gathering, though he played down the significance of their meeting.

Asked last week about potential talks with Damascus, Erdoğan said diplomacy between states can never be fully severed. There is a “need to take further steps with Syria,” he said, according to a transcript of his comments to Turkish media.

Around 3,000 people demonstrated on Aug. 12 in the town of Azaz, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebel forces, pledging to continue their opposition to Assad.

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