In an effort to restore diplomatic ties between Ankara and Damascus, high-ranking officials including the foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, convened in Moscow for significant talks, years after their relationship was strained amidst the Syrian conflict.
Syria’s Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, expressed optimism about the prospects of cooperation between Damascus and Ankara, as quoted by the Syrian state news agency SANA. However, he emphasised that the primary objective for the Syrian administration was to end the presence of foreign military forces, including those from Turkey. Mekdad asserted, “Without progress in this matter, we will remain stagnant and will not reach any real results.”
Northwestern Syria encompasses territory controlled by opposition factions, including armed groups supported by Turkey. The Russian foreign ministry shared in a statement that the gathering had a “positive and constructive atmosphere”, and that deputy foreign ministers of the participating nations will be assigned the task of formulating a roadmap for improving Syria-Turkey relations.
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, opened the discussions with a hopeful note that the gathering would lay the foundation for the creation of a roadmap for normalising relations between Turkey and Syria. Lavrov envisions Moscow’s role as not only affirming the progress made politically but also outlining general directions for the journey ahead.
Moscow, being Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s primary ally, has been promoting reconciliation with Turkey. Additionally, defence ministers from Syria and Turkey had previously met in Moscow in December.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasised the importance of “cooperation in combating terrorism and working together to establish the foundation for the return of Syrians” during the meeting. Cavusoglu mentioned that the advancement of the political process in Syria and protection of Syria’s territorial integrity were also key topics of discussion.
In parallel developments, al-Assad received a formal invitation to attend the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19, marking a significant thaw in the regional isolation of Damascus.
Arab League member states, at a meeting in Cairo, agreed to reinstate Syria’s membership, which was suspended over a decade ago. Arab nations have been striving to normalise relations, emphasising an “Arab-led political path” to solve the crisis and maintaining direct dialogue on common issues, including the refugee crisis, terrorism, and drug trafficking.
The pace of restoring ties with Damascus accelerated after the catastrophic earthquake on February 6 in Turkey and Syria and the re-establishment of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, mediated by China. The two nations had previously backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.
The decision to readmit Syria into the Arab League, however, has been met with significant opposition from residents in opposition-held Syrian territories and members of the country’s political opposition, who perceive it as a validation of the government’s attacks during the prolonged 12-year war.
Image Credit: Russian Foreign Ministry/Reuters