Close ties with Syrian regime is crucial: Foreign Minister

Ankara and Damascus have been working on a road map for restoring bilateral ties after a years-long chill, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Dec. 29, noting that the next step would be meeting between the foreign ministers of the two neighbors.

“We see that engagement with the Syrian regime is important… In the upcoming period, a meeting at the level of foreign ministers should be planned as the second stage of this roadmap. There is no concrete timetable for when the meeting will take place yet,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters at a press conference.

A trilateral leaders’ meeting is also on the agenda after the foreign ministers planned talks, but the timetable is not certain yet, he added.

The defense ministers and the intelligence chiefs of Russia, Turkeyand Syria held a meeting in Moscow on Dec. 28, the first such talks between Ankara and Damascus since the war broke out in Syria. “We discussed what could be done to improve the situation in Syria and the region as soon as possible while ensuring peace, tranquility and stability,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said before returning to Ankara from Moscow.

Türkiye has emphasized its counterterrorism efforts during the meeting, Akar said and added: “We emphasized that we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty rights of all our neighbors, especially Syria and Iraq, and that our sole aim is the fight against terrorism, we have no other purpose.” Türkiye aims to “neutralize” PKK/YPG, and ISIL terrorists, which are a threat to Syria as well, the defense minister also said.

Elaborating on the meeting in Moscow, Çavuşoğlu said the discussions were “useful,” and the engagement between Ankara and Damascus will also serve as a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“I can say that it was a useful meeting. I will also meet with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov. We think this engagement is important in terms of reconciliation between the Syrian regime and the opposition on a roadmap for a political solution.”

Damascus also wants Syrians to return to their country, the minister said.
Asked about a possible Turkish land incursion against the YPG targets in northern Syria, Çavuşoğlu underlined that Türkiye’s determination is solid in case of a threat, and a ground or aerial military campaign could still be on the agenda, in parallel to the rapprochement process with the Syrian regime.

“Our fight against terrorism in Syria will continue with determination. If this is land, it is from the ground, if it is from the air… The current engagement with the regime, that is, direct or indirect contacts, does not prevent our fight against terrorism,” the minister emphasized.

“The PKK/YPG terrorist organization is a threat to us, actually more of a threat to Syria because it has a separatist agenda,” Çavuşoğlu stated, noting that Türkiye and the Syrian regime can “make cooperation on the fight against terror” if they can reach a “common ground.”

Asked about the reaction of third countries to normalization between Syria and Türkiye, the minister said there were many countries that support the engagement process, but also there were those who were against and cautious. “Especially the countries that support the PKK, the U.S. and some European countries, do not take kindly to this dialogue,” he added.