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Russia to host Syria-Turkey fence-mending talks Tuesday

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Russia will host a new round of talks on Tuesday aimed at normalizing ties between Turkey and Syria, Turkey’s defense minister said, Agence France-Presse reported.

The talks, also involving regional power Iran, will be held in Moscow, Hulusi Akar said on Monday. They will be attended by the defense and intelligence chiefs of all four countries.

Russia is seeking to repair ties between Ankara and its ally Damascus, which were severed at the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.

“We are preparing for a meeting to be attended by the defense ministers and intelligence chiefs” of Turkey, Russia, Syria and Iran, Akar said.

“Our aim is to solve the problems through negotiations and to bring peace to the region as soon as possible.”

Ankara and Damascus have had few formal contacts since Turkey began backing rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once called Assad a “murderer,” has opened up to the idea of holding a peace-building summit with the Syrian leader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed Erdoğan’s efforts.

But Assad, whose country is slowly coming out of its regional isolation, has said he will only meet Erdoğan if Turkey withdraws its troops from northern Syria.

Erdoğan says he needs the military presence as a security precaution against attacks on Turkey by Kurdish groups, which Ankara views as terrorists but which played a central role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State jihadists.

Earlier this month, diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey and Syria met in Moscow to pave the way for a foreign ministers’ meeting.

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