Gov’t officials signal Erdoğan-Assad meeting as Ankara-Damascus mend ties

Senior members of Turkey’s ruling alliance are signalling talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad after statements from Turkish foreign minister last week on contacts between the sides following a decade of rupture in ties.

Mevlüt Çavusoglu’s revelation during a summit last week on a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad last October sparked reports on rapprochement between the sides and the possibility of a policy shift by Ankara in favour of the Assad regime.

Once an ally of Damascus, Turkey maintains an 11-year involvement in Syria’s civil war on the side of the opposition. The country has since 2016 launched four cross-border operations into northern Syria targeting Kurdish forces linked to an insurgency on its own soil and to prevent the formation of what it calls a terror corridor and controls swaths of territory in northern Syria with allied Syrian rebels.

The leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s junior coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli on Monday issued a statement on the  "valuable and accurate steps’’ between Syria and Turkey, saying  "no one should be offended’’ by attempts to establish peace with the Assad regime.

Ankara is "raising the level of talks with Syria to political dialogue level,’’ Dünya newspaper cited the MHP leader as saying.

"Removing terrorist organizations from the places they are nested, are candidates to become a topic of the political agenda ahead, and worth being taken seriously," Bahçeli said.

Çavusoğlu’s remarks last week on reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition sparked protests on Friday in the country’s rebel-held north.

​​The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Friday also issued a statement, highlighting that Turkey was the country that had made the most effort to find a solution to the Syrian conflict in line with the legitimate expectations of the people, Daily Sabah reported.

Over 300,000 civilians had been killed in Syria during the conflict since March 2011, or about 1.5 percent of its pre-war population, according to the U.N. human rights office.

"Relations with Damascus may become direct, and see an increase in level," Dünya newspaper cited deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Hayati Yazıcı as saying on Monday.

When asked by reporters, Yazıcı neither confirmed nor denied reports on a meeting between Erdoğan and Assad, Dünya said, noting that increased dialogue between Ankara and Damascus may lead to the end of the over decade-long war in Syria.

"I'm not in a position to say 'It will never happen.' It will begin from some point, and hopefully, the level (of contacts) may increase," the top AKP official said regarding reports on a meeting between the countries' presidents.

Çavuşoğlu last week denied reports of direct talks between Turkish president and his Syrian counterpart, AFP reported.

Erdoğan in May signalled a new operation into Syria along its southern borders to combat “terrorism threats” and has since reiterated the plan without providing a date.

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