Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said talks with foe Turkey should be based on the aims of ending the occupation of Syrian land and halting support for what he called terrorism, an apparent reference to Ankara’s forces in northern Syria and its support for rebels.
In his first publicly reported remarks on landmark talks overseen by his ally Russia, Assad also said the meetings “should be coordinated between Syria and Russia in advance in order to… produce tangible results sought by Syria”.
Assad made the comments, reported by Syrian state media on Thursday, in a meeting with Russian presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus.
Turkey has been a major backer of the political and armed opposition to Assad during the 12-year-long Syrian conflict, and has sent its own troops into swathes of the country’s north.
Moscow is supporting a rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, hosting talks between their defence ministers last month and aiming for meetings between the foreign ministers and eventually presidents.
Lavrentiev said Moscow viewed the defence ministers’ meeting “positively” and hoped to develop talks “to the level of foreign ministers”, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
Assad said the results should be based on the principle of “ending” the occupation and support for terrorism, a term that Syrian authorities use to refer to all opposition armed groups.
A source with close knowledge of the negotiations said Syria wanted Turkey to pull its troops from swathes of the north and to halt support to three main opposition factions.
The source said Syria was keen to see progress on those demands through follow-up committees before agreeing to a foreign ministers’ meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad early in February, rejecting reports that the two could meet next week.
Syria has made no official comment on the timing of such a meeting, which would mark the highest-level talks between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian war began in 2011.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday his country – Assad’s other main ally – was “happy with the dialogue taking place between Syria and Turkey”.
Amirabdollahian will travel to Damascus on Saturday for talks with his Syrian counterpart, according to pro-government Syrian daily Al-Watan.