The Turkish Defence Minister has said Ankara and Damascus could act together in Syria if problems concerning defence and security could be resolved through negotiations, Hürriyet daily reported on Saturday.
Minister Hulusi Akar said all parties expressed their opinions, visions and sensitivities during a tripartite meeting between Russian, Syrian and Turkish defence and intelligence chiefs in Moscow on 28 December.
The Turkish delegation told their Syrian counterparts that almost one-third of Syria has been controlled by terrorist organisations, including the People’s Defense Units (YPG) in the northeast of the country, which Turkey sees as being heavily linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Akar told journalists after the meeting.
“There are lots of factors, lots of actors. The meeting happened after all these met on a rational line,” Hürriyet Daily quoted Akar as saying when asked why the two neighbours waited so long to hold this meeting.
“This is the first meeting after 11 years. Nobody can expect everything to be solved in one meeting,” Yeni Şafak daily quoted Akar as saying.
Ankara and Damascus had very close relations before the start of the civil war in Syria, however the relations between the two neighbours went downhill as Turkey backed the Syrian rebels, starting an insurgence against the Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Yet, the two countries started signalling a possible Russian-brokered rapprochement earlier this year and negotiations between the intelligence units were carried out without leaking much information with the media, cultivating the ground for the first high-level meeting in Moscow this week.
Akar told journalists that the three sides agreed on continuing these meetings, adding that they have not set any date, while the Syrian defence ministry described the meeting as positive in a statement.
Turkey’s Defence Minister told the NTV channel later on Friday that a meeting can be held in the future between Erdoğan and Assad, once close friends, later bitter enemies, if the negotiations continue in a positive way.
The NTV reporter asked Akar whether a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in early January would be followed by an Erdoğan-Assad summit. “It is not proper to put these into a concrete calendar at the moment,” Akar said in response.
“Neither our president nor we use binding expressions about the operation,” said Akar, when asked whether the meeting might lead to changes in Turkey’s plans to start a ground operation against the territories in northeast Syria controlled by the mainly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Turkish government has repeatedly announced in recent weeks that an operation against Kurdish controlled areas near its southern border is underway, after Ankara launched airstrikes against the YPG on 20 November, accusing it of orchestrating a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul earlier in the month.
Journalists also asked the defence minister whether Ankara and Damascus could cooperate on the ground in Syria. “Of course, if we can solve our problems concerning defence and security, we can meet our needs as a result of those meetings,” Akar said.
Akar also hinted at a possible military cooperation between the two neighbours during his interview with the NTV. When the reporter asked him whether all future meetings will be held in Moscow, the minister said:
“There are two issues. First, it is to hold such political meetings somewhere and the second is that the coordination and work that we are currently doing with Russia on the ground can be carried out in a tripartite format,” he said.
Akar told NTV that the main issues for Turkey is to fight against terrorism and to prevent a new refugee flow from Syria as well as to secure the voluntary and safe return of almost 4 million Syrians in Turkey to their homeland.
Akar also assured Syrian rebels concerned about warming relations between Ankara and Damascus, saying that Turkey would never act in a way that will harm them.