Iran has welcomed the possibility of a rapprochement between its ally Syria and Turkey, the main backer of the political and armed opposition to Damascus for more than a decade.
“We are happy with the dialogue taking place between Syria and Turkey, and we believe that it will reflect positively between the two countries,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday during a visit to Beirut.
He made the comments on the heels of a statement by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, that said a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with his foe Turkey should aim for the end of Ankara’s “occupation” of northwestern Syria, one of the few safe havens for the opposition.
He also said that Turkey had to halt support for “terrorism”, an apparent reference to support for the rebels.
Al-Assad made the remarks on Thursday in a meeting in Damascus with the Russian presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev. The comments followed a meeting between the Turkish and Syrian defence ministers in Moscow on December 28.
Moscow is supporting a rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara. The aim is to have meetings between the two countries’ foreign ministers and eventually presidents.
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.
The rapprochement, al-Assad said, “should be coordinated between Syria and Russia in advance in order to … produce tangible results sought by Syria”.
The comments were al-Assad’s first publicly reported remarks on meetings between ministers from Ankara and Damascus after more than a decade of enmity between the two neighbours.
Turkey has been a major backer of the opposition to al-Assad since the start of the civil war 12 years ago and has sent its own troops into large parts of northern Syria.
But in late December, the defence ministers of Turkey and Syria held landmark negotiations in Moscow – the first such meeting since 2011.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that he could meet his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, early in February.
“There is no clear date yet, but we will hold this tripartite meeting as soon as possible, maybe at the beginning of February,” Cavusoglu told Turkish reporters during a visit to Rwanda about a meeting that would also involve Russia.
Analysts say Moscow is trying to bridge the divide between its two allies united by a common “enemy” of US-backed, predominantly Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Ankara describes those forces as “terrorists”.
Since 2016, Turkey has launched several incursions into northern Syria against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has fought a war against the Turkish state since 1984 and is a designated “terrorist” group in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The operations against the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, has allowed Turkey to control areas along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called al-Assad a “terrorist” in 2017, has opened up to the idea of meeting the Syrian leader, with whom he had good relations before 2011.
The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters, who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.
After the defence ministers meeting, hundreds of Syrians in Al-Bab, a town controlled by rebel factions long backed by Ankara, demonstrated in protest.
The US, Turkey’s NATO ally, has made clear its opposition to improving relations with al-Assad, who Department of State spokesman Ned Price called “a brutal dictator”.