Activities have been ongoing for a four-way meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Russia and Iran, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has said in an interview with TASS on Sunday.
“The organisation of a four-way meeting of foreign ministers has been put on the agenda. Work is underway to determine its modality and time,” said Bogdanov to Russia’s state news agency.
The foreign minister said Moscow was supporting Tehran’s participation in the Russian-brokered meetings that started in late December for the negotiation of a possible rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.
“That would make it possible to take advantage of the potential that was built up as part of the Astana process, which proved its effectiveness,” Bogdanov said, referring to the peace process launched in 2017 by Russia, Turkey and Iran to de-escalate the military conflicts in Syria.
The first high-level meeting between Turkey and Syria was held on 28 December, when the defence ministers and the intelligence chiefs of the neighbouring countries gathered in Moscow.
Before the twin earthquakes on 6 February that hit Turkey’s south and Syria’s north, causing large-scale damage and claiming the lives of over 50,000 people, high-level contacts between Ankara and Damascus brokered by Moscow were planned to continue with a tripartite meeting between the foreign ministers in February.
The 12-year civil war in Syria opened cracks in the relations between Ankara and Damascus, who had been close partners in the first decade of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.
Before the earthquake, many had expected the rapprochement process to continue with a potential meeting between the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose once-close friendship had turned to animosity due to Ankara’s support for Syrian rebels and its subsequent ground invasions into its southern neighbour’s territory.
The 6 February earthquakes, that created massive destruction in both countries, might have served as an opportunity for both leaders to demonstrate their willingness to mend relations. However, neither Erdoğan nor Assad, nor any senior officials from either country offered their condolences to the other after the tremor.
The Damascus government’s insistence on controlling the humanitarian aid to be delivered to northern Syria slowed down disaster relief to the country’s already warn-torn regions, now experiencing the results of the seismic disaster. Negotiation efforts by the UN finally resulted in the opening of two additional border crossings between Turkey and Syria to accelerate the transportation of humanitarian aid into Syria.
Meanwhile, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), sent a condolence letter to Assad on Thursday.
“As this disaster and the pain we have experienced show once again, we are partners and neighbours in our grief, we share the common pain of our peoples,” Kılıçdaroğlu’s said.
“Therefore, I take this opportunity to express my condolences to you and your people and hope that we will not share our sorrows but our hopes in the future,” he added.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, the officials of the CHP, including Kılıçdaroğlu, have numerous times called on Erdoğan to be open to dialogue with Assad. The previous statements of party officials point out that the CHP aims to solve the refugee problem in Turkey through a negotiation process with Assad to ensure the return of more than four million Syrians to their homeland.