Turkey restates support for Syria opposition after Moscow meeting

Top Turkish and Syrian officials met in Russia last week for the first time since 2011

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expects to meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Moscow in the second half of January.  AFP
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Turkey has restated its support for Syria's opposition, after a meeting between the two sides in Ankara.

The talks were held in an attempt to relieve the opposition's concerns, in light of the recent dialogue between Turkish and Syrian government officials in Moscow.

The defence chiefs of Turkey and Syria held milestone negotiations in the Russian capital, the first such meeting since 2011.

Ankara's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met opposition Syrian National Council chief Salem Al Meslet and other leaders in the capital on Tuesday.

“We reiterated our support to the Syrian opposition and people in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254,” Mr Cavusoglu said in reference to a 2015 UN call for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

Turkey clashed with Damascus after it began backing rebel efforts to topple President Bashar Al Assad at the start of the Syrian civil war 12 years ago.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called Mr Al Assad a “terrorist” in 2017, has opened up to the idea of meeting the Syrian leader.

Mr Erdogan has suggested that the talks between the defence chiefs be followed up by a meeting between the foreign ministers that could set up a potential presidential summit.

Mr Cavusoglu said he expects to meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Moscow in the second half of January.

But the Assad regime appears cool to Mr Erdogan's outreach efforts.

'Extended hand'

Some analysts believe that Mr Al Assad will not agree to meet Mr Erdogan before Turkey holds a general election, now scheduled for no later than June.

Mr Erdogan's foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin said it was “too early to say right now” when the two presidents might meet.

“How all of this unfolds depends on the regime's attitude,” Mr Kalin told NTV television.

“Turkey has extended its hand. We do not think that they will leave this hand hanging.”

Mr Erdogan's hopes for talks with Mr Al Assad follow calls from Turkey's main opposition party for Ankara to pull back its troops from Syria and make peace with Damascus.

The opposition is pressing Erdogan to speed up the “voluntary” return of nearly four million Syrians who fled the fighting to Turkey.

Anti-refugee sentiment is running high in Turkey ― with the election approaching ― and Mr Erdogan has hardened his once-accepting stance towards people displaced by war.

Mr Kalin confirmed that Ankara was now pressing Damascus “to take steps for the return of refugees and the humane treatment of displaced Syrians”.

The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara's indirect control.

It has also caused concern in Washington, but won strong backing in Moscow — the main military backer of Mr Al Assad.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 6:13 AM