Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday that Turkey’s ultimate aim in Syria was not the defeat of President Bashar al-Assad but to ensure a political solution in the war-torn country.
The president’s latest remarks on Syria and Assad followed a series of statements by Turkish officials signalling a reversal of attitude against the Syrian president.
“We are not concerned with defeating or not defeating Assad,” T24 news portal quoted Erdoğan as saying to reporters on his flight back from Ukraine following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday. The president criticised opposition parties in Turkey for claiming that Ankara needed to reconcile with Assad as it had failed in defeating the Syrian president.
“We do not have eyes on the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers. We have no such problem there. The integrity of their territory is important to us. The regime must be aware of this,” Erdoğan said.
“Political dialogue or diplomacy between states can never be cut off. There are always these kinds of dialogues, there should be,” he added.
The Turkish President’s remarks confirm reports regarding a potential normalisation between Ankara and Damascus after years of broken ties due to Turkey’s support to Syrian rebels aiming to remove Assad. Turkish pro-government daily Türkiye reported last week that Erdoğan might have a phone call with Assad, his one-time friend.
Three days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu revealed that he briefly met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in October on the sidelines of an international summit in Belgrade. Turkey’s top diplomat also said that Moscow sought to establish direct dialogue between Erdoğan and Assad, adding that the two leaders instead had preferred communication through intelligence services.
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks encouraging a reconciliation between the Syrian government and the opposition revoked mass protests against Turkey organised in Turkish-controlled regions in northern Syria.
Other prominent Turkish ultranationalist figures also voiced their support for mending ties between Ankara and Damascus. Erdoğan’s ally Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said on August 15 that Turkey’s recent steps in Syria were valuable and accurate.
“The constructive and realistic words of our foreign minister on establishing peace between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime are a powerful breather to the search for a permanent solution,” Bahçeli said in a statement.
Meanwhile Doğu Perinçek, the leader of a left-wing nationalist party who in recent years have backed Erdoğan, last week revealed plans to meet Assad to support a potential Turkish-Syrian reconciliation. Speaking to Halk TV, Perinçek said that Ankara had knowledge of his possible visit to Damascus.
Meanwhile, Mehr News Agency reported on Saturday that Erdoğan and Assad might meet on the sidelines of an international summit to be organised in September in the Uzbek city of Samarkand. The report quoting Iran’s Tasnim News Agency added that Russian president Vladimir Putin invited Assad to the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit.
Erdoğan earlier said that Putin had asked him to participate in the same summit, adding that he would probably accept the invitation.