Syria’s FM: Troop withdrawal necessary for normalization with Turkey

Normalisation between the Syrian regime and Turkey will not be possible as long as Turkish troops are present in the country’s north, Syria’s foreign minister has said.

Faisal Mekdad said the Syrian regime seeks to end the “abnormality” of Turkish boots on Syrian soil, state-run news agency SANA quoted him as saying.

The Syrian regime has on many occasions conditioned the withdrawal of Turkish forces from its territories as a prerequisite for any normalisation between the two countries.

“Normalisation can only be achieved after the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria, and we highly appreciate the effort made by [our] Russian friends” on finding a solution to this, Mekdad told Russian broadcaster RT on Sunday.

Russia has tried to mediate talks between Damascus and Ankara and proposed a roadmap earlier this month on how the two sides can begin negotiations.

While Turkey has backed opposition forces aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime, there has been dialogue between the two sides in recent months, particularly on security.

Turkey has maintained a military presence – along with local proxy forces – in parts of northern Syria since its first excursion in 2016 aimed at flushing out Kurdish armed groups.

It is now primarily concerned with the presence of Kurdish militias on its southern borders and the return of some 3-4 million Syrian refugees back to Syria, despite uproar from rights groups.

The US, meanwhile, operates a military base in Al-Tanf, along Syria’s shared borders with Iraq and Jordan.

“We are always optimistic, as the occupation must end, whether in the northwest, northeast and Al-Tanf,” Mekdad said.

The New Arab correspondent Absi Sleiman said Turkey could not pull out and leave its frontier exposed to the threat of Kurdish groups, which it has fought for decades, nor move Syrian refugees to areas in the country that would be vulnerable to regime attacks.

Other analysts say the regime is not interested in retaking these territories, preferring to avoid additional social, economic and political pressures in areas that have been out of its hands for a decade or more.

Sleiman said both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government are trying to raise the stakes before they start talking.