Assad says meeting with Erdogan will not happen till Turkey leaves Syria
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he will only meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if Turkey withdraws troops from northern Syria, according to a Russian media interview published on Thursday.
His comments come one day after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to repair ties between Erdogan and Assad severed after the Syrian war broke out in 2011.
"(Any meeting) is linked to our reaching the point when Turkey is ready -- fully and without any uncertainty -- for a complete withdrawal from Syrian territory," Assad told Russia's state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.
The Syrian leader, who arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, demanded that alongside a withdrawal Turkey end "support for terrorism", a reference to rebel groups that control regions of northern Syria and oppose Damascus.
"This is the only way in which my meeting with Erdogan could take place," Assad was cited as saying.
"What significance would any kind of meeting have -- and why organise it -- if it doesn't lead to a conclusion of the war in Syria?" he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "work continues" on a potential meeting between Assad and Erdogan.
"A meeting like that has to be preceded by a whole range of preparatory contacts, which are now underway," Peskov said.
Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey and Syria were to meet in Moscow this week to pave the way for a foreign ministers' meeting, according to Turkish media.
The meeting was however postponed for technical reasons, private broadcaster NTV said.
Erdogan and Assad had amicable relations in the 2000s after years of tensions between their countries following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
But Syria's civil war, which has left 500,000 people dead and displaced millions, strained relations between Damascus and Ankara, which has long supported rebel groups opposed to Assad.
Assad also said in an interview published on Thursday that he would welcome any Russian proposals to set up new military bases and boost Russian troop numbers in Syria.
The regime leader said Russia's military presence in Syria did not need to be temporary.