Saturday 24 March 2018

Turkey edges closer to deal with Syria at expense of Kurds

Strained ties: Syria's president Bashar al-Assad Photo: SANA via AP
Strained ties: Syria's president Bashar al-Assad Photo: SANA via AP

Zia Weise

Turkey's prime minister has suggested that his country will normalise diplomatic ties with Syria, hinting at a major shift in Ankara's hardline stance on its neighbour's five-year conflict.

The prime minister's comments follow last month's efforts to restore strained ties with Russia and Israel and seek "more friends, fewer enemies" in the region after a period of diplomatic isolation. "It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbours that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea," prime minister Binali Yildirim said.

"We normalised relations with Russia and Israel. I'm sure we will normalise our relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq," he added.

Turkey has insisted on the departure of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad since the conflict began in 2011. The country hosts representatives of the Syrian opposition and has sponsored various rebel groups fighting the government, setting it at odds with Moscow.

However, Turkey's foreign minister pledged to co-ordinate its Syria policy with Russia at the end of June after the countries had ended a nine-month diplomatic freeze following Turkey's downing of a Russian jet last November.

Israel and Turkey also restored ties last month after relations broke down in 2010 and ministers have suggested that a rapprochement with Egypt - where Turkey still supports the ousted Muslim Brotherhood - is on the cards.

Reconciliation with Damascus seemed a distant prospect, with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for the removal of Assad and the Syrian president railing against Ankara's sponsorship of Syrian rebels.

Last month, however, Turkish officials began suggesting that Ankara and Damascus might be able to find a common goal in preserving Syria's territorial integrity.

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