Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed new interest in a possible meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as Ankara doubles down on its threat of a ground operation against Syrian Kurdish groups.
“A meeting with Assad is possible. There is no resentment or bitterness in politics,” Erdogan told Turkish media in the Turkish parliament on Wednesday. “Sooner or later we will take steps.”
His statement marks the second of its kind in a two-week span as Ankara threatens to add ground operations in northern Syria to its ongoing air campaign. But for that step, Turkey needs the blessings of Moscow, which has long pressured both Ankara and Damascus to mend their ties.
“That’s just essential,” Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia’s special envoy to Syria, told Russia’s TASS news agency on Wednesday. “Because those two countries are neighbors and should be friends.”
Erdogan’s diplomatic foray was part of Ankara’s multiple attack after the November 13 Istanbul bombing, aimed at increasing pressure on both Russia and the United States. While Turkish forces have launched a massive air campaign against the Syrian Kurdish groups, Erdogan has ramped up rhetoric against Washington and Moscow.
“The armed forces that assured us that the regions they control in Syria would not pose a threat to our country have failed to keep their promises,” Erdogan said, in a clear reference to the United States and Russia.
Earlier this week, Erdogan criticized Russia for “failing to fulfill its responsibility to clear terrorists” in northern Syria under the 2019 Ankara-Moscow deal.
Turkey has blamed the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), for the Istanbul attack, which left six dead and dozens injured. The group denied any involvement in the attack.
Turkish airstrikes in retaliation, which began early Sunday morning in Turkey, targeted the SDF-controlled regions of northern Syria and hit several locations, including an SDF base next to the main US military base in Kobani, which is known to be a US military base. hosts diplomatic delegations.
Erdogan today reiterated the threat of a ground invasion. “As we continue our air campaign unabated, we will fall hard from land on the terrorists’ necks at the most convenient time for us,” he told his party members. He named the targets Tell Rifaat, Manbij and Kobani without identification. any time frame.
Turkey needs Russia’s agreement for a possible ground invasion, but the cautious tone from Moscow clouded such a prospect. Lavrentyev said today that Russia has been in close contact with Turkey to prevent further escalation.
Similar warnings have also been echoed by Washington. The Pentagon called for a “immediate de-escalationon Tuesday. Today, US General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler about ‘recent developments’, according to an official Turkish lecture.
Last spring, Ankara shelved its plans for a raid due to lack of green light from Washington and Moscow, despite serious threats from Erdogan and other government officials. Iran has also strongly opposed the Turkish invasion.
Erdogan then floated the potential rapprochement in August, publicly announcing that ousting Assad was no longer the goal of his government in Syria. Still, Ankara later backtracked with Ibrahim Kalin, a top aide to the president, saying there was “no political basis” for a possible meeting between the two leaders.
The Syrian government has labeled the Turkish military presence in Syria as an “occupation” and is asking Turkey to withdraw from areas it controls.
Lavrentyev’s remarks on Wednesday could mark a shift on “political ground”.
“I think the signs and signals are there that Turkey and Syria are ready to meet somewhat halfway,” the envoy said, speaking on the sidelines of the so-called Astana talks, a trilateral mechanism involving Russia, Turkey and Iran . to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war Moscow and Tehran are supporting Damascus in the conflict, while Turkey is supporting Syrian rebels fighting to oust the Syrian government.
As the Istanbul attack further fueled already high anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, Erdogan’s olive branch towards Assad was also supported by his de facto political ally and leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli.
During his speech on Tuesday, Bahceli also called for bilateral talks to be started with Assad’s government, “to form a united front against the terrorist organizations.”