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Iranian FM hails thaw in Turkey’s ties with Syria

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Iran on Tuesday hailed the resumption of the first direct ministerial talks between arch-rivals Ankara and Damascus since the outbreak of the Syria civil war more than a decade ago, Agence France-Presse reported.

Ankara’s relations with Damascus ruptured after Ankara began backing rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Assad a “terrorist” in 2017 and refused to recognize the Syrian leader’s rule.

But Damascus ally Russia managed to arrange the first direct meeting between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers since 2011 in Moscow in December.

More meetings are tentatively being planned for the coming weeks aimed at paving the way for a landmark peace summit between Erdoğan and Assad.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian — whose government also strongly backs Assad — said Tehran fully supported the reconciliation efforts.

“We are very pleased by the fact that relations between Damascus and Ankara are undergoing change,” Amir-Abdollahian told reporters after talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

“We believe any positive development in relations between Ankara and Damascus will benefit our region and our countries,” the Iranian foreign minister said.

Amir-Abdollahian flew into Ankara fresh from a visit to Damascus for talks with Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on Saturday.

Çavuşoğlu said he intended to hold his first official meeting with Mekdad “in the upcoming period.”

He had earlier suggested that he might meet his Syrian counterpart in Moscow next month.

“Today, we emphasized that Iran’s contribution to this process is very important,” Çavuşoğlu said.

US concern

Russia’s ability to reopen dialogue between NATO member Turkey and the Assad government has unsettled the United States.

Washington’s relations with Ankara are already strained by US support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria that Erdoğan views as “terrorists”.

Some analysts believe that Russia is hoping Damascus and Ankara can unite in their shared desire to push the US forces out of Syria.

The US State Department said this month that it did not “support countries upgrading their relations or expressing support to rehabilitate the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad.”

The Syrian leader has also set tough conditions for a meeting with Erdoğan.

Assad said last week that a presidential summit depended on “the end of occupation” by Ankara of parts of Syria.

Erdoğan argues that Turkey needs a military presence in northern Syria to protect its territory from cross-border attacks by the Kurdish forces.

Çavuşoğlu said Tuesday that Ankara respected Syria’s “territorial integrity” but also sought support in its fights against “terrorists.”

“These terrorists need to be cleared out,” Çavuşoğlu said in reference to the Syrian Kurdish forces.

“We need to fight terrorism together.”

Iran’s top diplomat also held a 90-minute meeting in Ankara with Erdoğan that included discussions about the timing of a long-planned visit to Turkey by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

“Hopefully, this visit will take place in the near future, and it will accelerate our bilateral relations,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

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