Turkish-Syrian meeting postponed as Assad demands Turkish exit from Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – During an interview with RIA-Novosti, Russia’s state news agency, on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said there would be no meeting with his Turkish counterpart until Turkey’s forces withdraw from Syria.

Any meeting “is linked to our reaching the point when Turkey is ready – fully and without uncertainty – for a complete withdrawal from Syrian territory,” Assad said during his visit to Moscow. “This is the only way in which my meeting with [Turkish President] Erdogan could take place.”

Assad also demanded Turkey end its “support for terrorism,” referring to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front), as well as Islamist factions which form part of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).

Turkey has occupied large swathes of northern Syria since 2016 with the help of the SNA, an opposition coalition funded by Ankara. Turkey has also closely cooperated with HTS in Idlib, which a number of governments, including Turkey’s, have deemed a terrorist group.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has pushed for a rapprochement between Assad and Erdogan. Talks between the two country’s defense ministers and intelligence chiefs, the highest-level diplomacy between Turkey and Syria since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, already took place in December. A meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Russia and Iran was set to take place between March 15-17.

Turkey is eager to reach a settlement with the government in Damascus in order to return millions of Syrian refugees, which have become a liability in the run-up to general and presidential elections in Turkey.

According to a Turkish foreign ministry source quoted by Arab News, this meeting has now been postponed indefinitely for “technical reasons”. It is unknown, though probable, that the change is due Syria’s intransigence.

Assad also met with Putin while in Moscow. No reports of their conversations have yet been published, though Turkey was likely also on the agenda.

Reporting by Sasha Hoffman