In yet another move that sharply contradicted his earlier stance against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he would have met with Assad if he had come to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, according to a journalist.
The two-day SCO meeting began in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on Thursday. Turkey is a dialogue partner in the SCO, which was set up in 2001 and consists of China, India, Pakistan, Russia and several ex-Soviet states. President Erdoğan is among the participants of the summit.
“If only Assad had come to Uzbekistan, I would have met with him. But he can’t come to such places. Syria is about to be divided because of him and his attitude,” Erdoğan was quoted by pro-government journalist Abdülkadir Selvi as saying.
Syria is not a member of the SCO.
Erdoğan’s remarks came in response to a comment from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said Assad does not attend SCO summits and that no invitation was extended for him to attend the current gathering.
Erdoğan also said Assad chose to fight with the opposition groups in his country in order to stay in power and that he wanted to protect the areas under his control but not larger parts of Syria.
Turkey has strongly opposed Assad throughout the 11-year civil war and backed some rebel groups, while Erdoğan in earlier remarks accused the Syrian regime of carrying out “state terrorism” and labelled Assad as a “terrorist.”
But Turkey began to publicly give signs of reconciliation with the Syrian regime this summer. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu revealed in August that 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.
Erdoğan also said last month that Turkey needs to take further steps in the newly announced process of reconciliation with the Syrian government, noting that political dialogue and diplomacy between countries can never be cut.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Friday that Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan had multiple meetings with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus over the last few weeks.
A regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters that Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk met as recently as this week in the Syrian capital.
During the meetings, Fidan — one of President Erdoğan’s closest confidants — and Mamlouk evaluated how the two countries’ foreign ministers could eventually meet, according to a senior Turkish official and a Turkish security source.