Iran hails thaw in Turkey's ties with Syria

It is the first resumption of direct ministerial talks between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian civil war

Syrias Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (right) and Irans Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attend a news conference in Damascus, Syria. — Reuters/File
Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (right) and Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attend a news conference in Damascus, Syria. — Reuters/File

ANKARA: Iran on Tuesday hailed the resumption of the first direct ministerial talks between arch-rivals Ankara and Damascus since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago.

Ankara's relations with Damascus ruptured after Ankara began backing rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Assad a "terrorist" in 2017 and refused to recognise the Syrian leader's rule.

But Damascus ally Russia managed to arrange the first direct meeting between the Syrian and Turkish defence ministers since 2011 in Moscow in December.

More meetings are tentatively being planned for the coming weeks aimed at paving the way for a landmark peace summit between Erdogan and Assad.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian — whose government also strongly backs Assad — said Tehran fully supported the reconciliation efforts.

"We are very pleased by the fact that relations between Damascus and Ankara are undergoing change," Amir-Abdollahian told reporters after talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"We believe any positive development in relations between Ankara and Damascus will benefit our region and our countries," the Iranian foreign minister said.

Amir-Abdollahian flew into Ankara fresh from a visit to Damascus for talks with Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on Saturday.

Cavusoglu said he intended to hold his first official meeting with Mekdad "in the upcoming period".

He had earlier suggested that he might meet his Syrian counterpart in Moscow next month.

"Today, we emphasised that Iran's contribution to this process is very important," Cavusoglu said.

US concern

Russia's ability to reopen dialogue between NATO member Turkey and the Assad government has unsettled the United States.

Washington's relations with Ankara are already strained by US support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria that Erdogan views as "terrorists".

Some analysts believe that Russia is hoping Damascus and Ankara can unite in their shared desire to push the US forces out of Syria.

The US State Department said this month that it did not "support countries upgrading their relations or expressing support to rehabilitate the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad".

The Syrian leader has also set tough conditions for a meeting with Erdogan.

Assad said last week that a presidential summit depended on "the end of occupation" by Ankara of parts of Syria.

Erdogan argues that Turkey needs a military presence in northern Syria to protect its territory from cross-border attacks by the Kurdish forces.

Cavusoglu said Tuesday that Ankara respected Syria's "territorial integrity" but also sought support in its fights against "terrorists".

"These terrorists need to be cleared out," Cavusoglu said in reference to the Syrian Kurdish forces.

"We need to fight terrorism together."

Iran's top diplomat also held a 90-minute meeting in Ankara with Erdogan that included discussions about the timing of a long-planned visit to Turkey by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

"Hopefully, this visit will take place in the near future, and it will accelerate our bilateral relations," Amir-Abdollahian said.