Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Monday said Turkey has “no preconditions” for dialogue with the Syrian government, amid speculation about a possible thaw in relations between Ankara and Damascus, Turkish daily Hürriyet reported on Tuesday.
Çavuşoğlu denied that Turkey was ready for a rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a televised interview on Monday, after previous statements suggested that the feuding states were set to restore ties after more than 10 years of hostility.
But the Turkish foreign minister did hint that dialogue between the countries could soon resume, if such a move would benefit Ankara’s broader plan for the region.
“There aren’t any preconditions for dialogue, but what are the purpose of the talks? Our security is important, so is Syria’s territorial integrity,” Çavuşoğlu said, also stressing the importance of facilitating a return for the millions of Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey.
“We don’t have any preconditions for talks, but they should be goal-oriented,” he said.
Turkey’s goals have shifted since the early days of the 11-year Syrian conflict, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Assad’s government a “terrorist state” and predicted a swift victory for the rebel forces backed by Ankara.
In 2022, Erdoğan’s main Syrian concern lies not in Damascus but in the predominatly Kurdish northern provinces bordering Turkey, where Turkish forces have launched a string of military offensives against Kurdish-led organisations.
After Erdoğan attempted to drum up support from Assad’s Russian backers for a new cross-border offensive this year, Turkish-backed rebel factions were alarmed by a series of remarks made by Turkish officials indicating a thaw in relations between Ankara and Damacus.
Earlier in August, Çavuşoğlu revealed that he had spoken briefly to his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Belgrade last October. Prior to this meeting, the only known contact between officials from the two states since the beginning of the war had been conducted by intelligence officers.
Erdoğan later said diplomatic ties between the two countries could not be completely severed and expressed a desire to “take further steps” with Syria. He also said Turkey’s aim in Syria was not to defeat Assad, a marked change from the Turkish president’s earlier rhetoric on the matter.
The comments led to speculation that a meeting could take place between the Syrian and Turkish presidents at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s September summit in Uzbekistan.
But Çavuşoğlu denied that any such meeting was planned, stating that Assad had not been invited to the summit and that speculation around the meeting was driven by “bad intentions”.