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Turkish, Syrian foreign ministers to meet in Moscow for talks on reconciliation

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The foreign ministers of Turkey and Syria will hold their first official meeting on Wednesday since the start of Syrian civil war more than a decade ago, Agence France-Presse reported, citing officials.

The talks in Moscow will also involve the top diplomats of Russia and Iran, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The announcement delivers a diplomatic boost to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan just days before he faces the toughest general election of his 21-year rule on Sunday.

Erdoğan supported early rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, keeping a military presence in northern stretches of the war-torn country that angers Damascus.

But Erdoğan reversed course after Turkey plunged into an economic crisis two years ago.

The Turkish leader has made up with former rivals across the region and is now courting a presidential summit with Assad.

Syria had refused, insisting that Turkey first pull out its troops.

A reconciliation with Syria is also supported by Erdoğan’s opponents and plays an important part in Turkey’s election campaign.

Erdoğan has pledged to speed up the repatriation of nearly 4 million Syrian refugees and migrants who fled to Turkey to escape poverty and war.

An agreement with Damascus is seen as a prerequisite for this process.

Iran and Russia have been helping mediate talks between the two sides.

‘Murderer’

Ankara said the repatriation will be discussed at the talks.

The sides will “exchange views on the normalization of relations between Turkey and Syria, discuss humanitarian issues… and the voluntary, safe and dignified return of asylum seekers,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu exchanged a few words with his Syrian counterpart on the sidelines of a regional summit in 2021.

But both sides insisted that this did not mark a resumption of formal talks.

Erdoğan turned into one of Assad’s fiercest opponents when the violent repression of protests set off Syria’s civil war in 2011.

The Turkish leader called Assad a “murderer” in 2017, saying he should be brought to justice before an international tribunal.

But reversing course, Erdoğan this year said that a presidential summit could help “establish peace and stability in the region.”

The Moscow meeting follows several rounds of lower-level talks in Moscow involving the four countries’ defense ministers.

The last one in April ended with Damascus insisting on “the withdrawal of Turkish forces” from Syria.

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