Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sees no point in meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan until Turkey ends its “illegal occupation” of parts of the country’s north, he told Sputnik Arabic on Thursday.
Assad said he would agree to meet with Erdoğan only if “Turkey is ready, clearly and without any ambiguity, to completely exit Syrian territory, stop supporting terrorism and restore the situation to what it was before the start of the war in Syria“.
Turkey played a detrimental role in Syria’s more than a decade-long civil war, Assad continued, as he accused Turkey of supporting terrorists. Turkish authorities and armed forces have been cooperating with Syrian rebel factions, many of whom come from former Al Qaeda affiliated groups, in a bid to prevent Syrian Kurds from controlling territory in the north and east of the war-torn country.
Ankara-allied forces and Turkish troops currently control a significant portion of the strip of Syrian territory across from the Turkish border, with the notable exception of the town of Kobani and the Cizire region. The Syrian government refuses to negotiate with Turkey, instead relying on Russian mediation.
The interview comes at the tail end of Assad’s visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the pair discussed rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.
“A meeting like that [between Assad and Erdoğan] has to be preceded by a whole range of communications at the working level, which are now underway. This work will continue,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Turkish and Syrian defence ministers and intelligence service chiefs had met in December in a trilateral negotiation with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, following Erdoğan’s calls for such a meeting.