Syria is resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit between President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, Reuters reported on December 2.
Turkey is currently conducting an air operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, which are backed by the United States, and is threatening the war-torn country with a new ground invasion.
Three sources with knowledge of Syria’s position on possible talks told the news agency that Assad had rejected a proposal to meet Erdogan with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
According to two of the sources, Damascus believes that such a meeting could boost Erdogan’s chances in the Turkish elections next year, especially if its addresses the issue of returning some of the 3,6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections,” one of the two said, revealed that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
The third source, a diplomat, said Syria “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Ankara broke ties with Damascus in the very first year of the Syrian war. Soon after, it rose to become the main political and military backer of Syrian rebels. Today, the Turkish military occupies vast parts of the country’s northern region.
Syrian and Turkish intelligence officials have been holding talks for the last few months. The results are yet to be revealed, however.
Speaking to Reuters, two Turkish sources disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things are on track for an eventual meeting between Assad and Erdogan. One of the sources, a senior official, said that the meeting could be possible “in the not too distant future.”
“Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the official said. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkey. Russia would benefit too… given it is stretched in many areas.”
Erdogan expressed his willingness to meet with Assad on several occasions in the last few months. In a recent televised discussion, the president said that Turkey could “get things on track with Syria” and that “there can be no resentment in politics.”
A rapprochement between Turkey and Syria benefit both countries. It would help ease the refugee crisis, address mutual security concerns and even revive economic ties. Russia’s efforts to achieve reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus could bear fruit very soon.