Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he is open to talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but would not meet him if a withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syrian territory were set as a condition.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Monday, Erdogan said Turkey has never “shut the door” to discussions with the Syrian government.
He was speaking ahead of his departure for a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Turkey is the biggest military and political ally of Syrian opposition, which controls the last rebel-held bastion in the country.
Bastion is in northwest Syria on the Turkish border.
Ankara has set up dozens of bases and deployed thousands of troops in northern Syria.
This aimed at preventing the Russian-backed Syrian army from re-taking the region.
Turkey has also been a base for Syrian opposition groups since 2011.
“We can hold a four-party summit (with Syria, Russia and Iran), and I am also open to a meeting with Assad.
“What matters here is their approach towards us,” Erdogan told journalists.
However, Damascus’s condition of a complete withdrawal of Turkish forces for such a meeting is “unacceptable”, he said.
Erdogan said this year that he might meet al-Assad as part of a new peace process.
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But al-Assad said in March that there was no point in a meeting with Erdogan until Turkey’s “illegal occupation” ended.
Turkey has said its military operations in Syria have been necessary to secure its southern border.
It is trying to remove fighters with the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Defence Units.
But Ankara said YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The PKK has fought a war against the Turkish state since 1984 – a conflict that has led to tens of thousands of deaths.
“We are fighting against terrorism there. How can we withdraw when our country is under continuous threat from terrorists along our border? … We expect a fair approach,” Erdogan said.
The defence ministers of Turkey and Syria met late last year for the highest-level talks between the two neighbours since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
The uprisings plunged Syria into war and put it and Turkey at odds.
The foreign ministers of the two countries also met in Moscow in May ahead of Turkish elections as part of talks overseen by Russia.
While tensions between the two countries remain, Arab states have been looking to normalise ties with al-Assad. (Aljazeera)
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