Assad says Turkey talks must be based on ending 'occupation'

Assad says Turkey talks must be based on ending 'occupation'
The Syrian regime has said any talks with Turkey must be based on Ankara ending its so-called 'occupation' of northern Syria and support for rebel groups.
2 min read
Assad has demanded a Turkish withdrawal form northern Syria [Getty/archive]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said talks with foe Turkey should be based on the aims of ending the "occupation" of Syrian land and halting support for what he called terrorism, an apparent reference to Ankara's forces in northern Syria and its support for rebels.

In his first publicly reported remarks on landmark talks overseen by his ally Russia, Assad also said the meetings "should be coordinated between Syria and Russia in advance in order to... produce tangible results sought by Syria".

Assad made the comments, reported by Syrian regime media on Thursday, in a meeting with Russian presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus.

Turkey has been a major backer of the political and armed opposition to Assad during the 12-year-long Syrian conflict, which began with the Assad regime's brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests, and has sent its own troops into swathes of the country's north.

Over 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions more displaced, mostly as a result of Syrian regime bombardment of civilian areas.

Moscow is supporting a rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, hosting talks between their defence ministers last month and aiming for meetings between the foreign ministers and eventually presidents.

The rapprochement efforts have angered opposition groups in northern Syria.

Lavrentiev said Moscow viewed the defence ministers' meeting "positively" and hoped to develop talks "to the level of foreign ministers," Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Assad said the results should be based on the principle of "ending" the "occupation and support for terrorism," a term that the Syrian regime uses to refer to all opposition armed groups.

A source with close knowledge of the negotiations said the Syrian regime wanted Turkey to pull its troops from the north and to halt support to three main opposition factions.

The source said the Assad regime was keen to see progress on those demands through follow-up committees before agreeing to a foreign ministers' meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could meet his Syrian regime counterpart Faisal Mekdad early in February, rejecting reports that the two could meet next week.

Such a meeting would mark the highest-level talks between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian war began in 2011.

There has been no official Syrian regime comment on when such a meeting might happen.

(Reuters & The New Arab)