Unique-With a Russian nudge, Turkey and Syria step up contacts By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Turkish International Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan are seen earlier than a gathering with Russian President Vladimir Putin within the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia August 24, 2018. Alexander Zemlianiche


By Orhan Coskun and Laila Bassam

ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey’s intelligence chief has held a number of conferences along with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus over the previous couple of weeks, an indication of Russian efforts to encourage a thaw between states on reverse sides of Syria’s conflict, 4 sources mentioned.

A regional supply aligned with Damascus instructed Reuters that Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s Nationwide Intelligence Group (MIT), and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk met as not too long ago as this week within the Syrian capital.

The contacts replicate a Russian coverage shift as Moscow steels itself for a protracted battle in Ukraine and seeks to safe its place in Syria, the place its forces have supported President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, in response to two Turkish officers and the regional supply.

Any normalisation between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decade-long Syrian conflict.

Turkish backing has been very important to sustaining Syrian rebels of their final main territorial foothold within the northwest, after Assad defeated the insurgency throughout the remainder of the nation, aided by Russia and Iran.

However rapprochement faces huge issues, together with the destiny of insurgent fighters and hundreds of thousands of civilians, lots of whom fled to the northwest to flee Assad’s rule.

Turkey, a NATO member nation, has troops on the bottom throughout the realm, deemed occupying forces by Assad.

Through the conferences, Fidan – considered one of President Tayyip Erdogan’s closest confidants – and Mamlouk evaluated how the 2 international locations’ international ministers might finally meet, in response to a senior Turkish official and a Turkish safety supply.

“Russia needs Syria and Turkey to beat their issues and obtain sure agreements…that are within the curiosity of everybody, each Turkey and Syria,” mentioned the Turkish official.

One huge problem is Turkey’s want to incorporate Syrian rebels in any talks with Damascus, the official added.


The Turkish safety official mentioned Russia has regularly withdrawn some navy assets from Syria in an effort to deal with Ukraine, and had requested Turkey to normalise relations with Assad to “speed up a political answer” in Syria.

The Damascus-allied supply mentioned Russia had nudged Syria to enter talks as Moscow seeks to nail down its place and that of Assad within the occasion it should redeploy forces to Ukraine. Russia has sustained beautiful losses on the bottom in Ukraine over the previous week.

The newest conferences – together with a two-day go to by Fidan to Damascus on the finish of August – had sought to put the bottom for periods at a better degree, the supply mentioned.

The senior Turkish official mentioned Ankara doesn’t need to see Iranian or Iran-backed forces – already extensively deployed in government-controlled components of Syria – plugging gaps left by Russian withdrawals.

The Turkish safety official mentioned neither did Russia need to see Iranian affect increase because it reduces its presence.

A diplomat primarily based within the area mentioned Russia had pulled a restricted variety of troops out of Syria’s south earlier this summer season, notably in areas alongside the border with Israel that have been later crammed by Iran-aligned forces.

Whereas Fidan and Mamlouk have spoken intermittently over the past two years, the tempo and timing of latest conferences suggests a brand new urgency to the contacts.

The regional supply allied to Damascus and a second senior pro-Assad supply within the Center East mentioned the Turkish-Syrian contacts had made quite a lot of progress, with out giving particulars.

A 3rd regional supply aligned with Damascus mentioned Turkish-Syrian relations had begun to thaw and have been advancing to a stage of “making a local weather for understanding”.

The sources spoke on situation of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contacts, which haven’t been publicly disclosed.

The Russian international ministry didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Turkey’s MIT declined to remark and the international ministry didn’t instantly remark. The Syrian info ministry didn’t instantly reply to emailed questions from Reuters.


Turkish-Syrian rapprochement appeared unthinkable earlier within the Syrian battle, which spiralled out of an rebellion towards Assad in 2011, killing a whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals, drawing in quite a few international powers, and splintering the nation.

Erdogan has referred to as Assad a terrorist and mentioned there could possibly be no peace in Syria with him in workplace, whereas Assad has referred to as Erdogan a thief for “stealing” Syrian land.

However in an obvious change of tone final month, Erdogan mentioned he might by no means rule out dialogue and diplomacy with Syria.

Erdogan faces tight elections subsequent 12 months during which a key concern shall be repatriating a number of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey.

The Turkish-Syrian contacts come towards the backdrop of a flurry of conferences between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, together with one deliberate on Friday in Uzbekistan.

In July, Turkey helped seal a U.N.-backed deal that lifted a blockade on grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports which had prevailed since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour.

After a latest go to to Moscow, Erdogan mentioned Putin had advised Turkey cooperate with Damascus alongside their joint border, the place Ankara has waged a number of offensives into areas the place Syrian Kurdish teams have carved out autonomy since 2011.

Turkey has been threatening to launch one other offensive towards the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara deems a nationwide safety menace. Russia has signalled opposition to such an incursion.

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