Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was willing to meet President Bashar al-Assad had the Syrian leader attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SOC) summit in Uzbekistan, Turkey’s pro-government Hurriyet newspaper reported on September 16.
According to Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, Erdogan made the comments about Assad at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party on September 12.
“I wish Assad had come to Uzbekistan, I would have spoken to him. But he can’t come there,” Erdogan was quoted by Selvi as saying at the party meeting.
“He went to war with rebels to maintain his own power. He chose to protect his own power. He thought to protect the areas he controlled. But he couldn’t protect large areas,” Erdogan reportedly added.
Last month, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that Erdogan could meet Assad on the sideline of the SOC summit in Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, the Syrian leader ended up not attending the summit.
Hurriyet report came after four sources told Reuters that Turkey’s intelligence chief held multiple meetings with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus in recent weeks. During the meetings, a possible summit between the two countries’ foreign minister was discussed.
The attempt to restore relations between Ankara and Damascus is reportedly being led by Russia, who is looking to solidify its position in Syria.
Turkey’s political and military support has been critical for the survival of Syrian rebels, who lost most of their territory to government forces after the start of Russian operations in Syria.
A rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus could reshape the war in Syria. The biggest loser would be US-backed Kurdish forces, who still occupy vast parts of the country’s northern and northeastern region. They could end up facing a Russian-backed Turkish-Syria alliance.
Restoring ties with Damascus could also allow Ankara to organize a safe return for millions of Syrian refugees. This is of special importance for Erdogan, as his party is looking to resolve the Syrian refugee issue before the upcoming Turkish elections.