A senior member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) says Damascus has turned down Ankara’s request for a meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after more than a decade of bitter enmity since the outbreak of Syria's conflict.
Orhan Miroglu told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “Syria intends to put off the meeting until after the Turkish presidential election,” which is scheduled to be held on June 18 next year.
On Friday, Reuters news agency reported that despite Russia’s mediation efforts, the Syrian president has resisted meeting with his Turkish counterpart.
According to the report based on three different Syrian sources, Assad rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to meet with Erdogan.
Two of the sources said Damascus believes such a meeting could support Erdogan ahead of next year’s Turkish election, especially if Ankara addresses its goal of repatriating some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees from Turkey.
Stating that there will be no rapprochement before the upcoming Turkish poll, the source said, “Why hand Erdogan victory for free?” He added that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
A third source, a Syrian diplomat, said Damascus “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Earlier, Erdogan said normalization of relations with crisis-stricken Syria was possible.
“Just as relations between [Turkey] and Egypt take shape, ties with Syria can follow the same path in the next period,” Erdogan said on November 27.
He was referring to an ongoing normalization process between Turkey and Egypt, which saw Erdogan meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at the FIFA World Cup in the Qatari capital city of Doha. Ankara severed its ties with Cairo in 2013 in protest at the latter's bloody crackdown on the followers of late Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.
“There is no room for hard feelings in politics,” Erdogan also said.
Turkey cut off its relations with Syria in March 2012, a year after the Arab country found itself in the grip of rampant and hugely deadly violence waged by foreign-backed militants and terrorists, including those allegedly supported by Ankara.
Since 2016, Turkey has also conducted three major ground operations against United States-backed militants based in northern Syria.
The Turkish government accuses the militants, who are known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), of bearing ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party terrorist group.
Turkey has been launching airstrikes on northern Syria and Iraq since November 20, against, what it calls, hideouts belonging to the PKK.