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

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© 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

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By Orhan Coskun and Laila Bassam

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

A regional supply aligned with Damascus informed 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 mirror 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 accordance with two Turkish officers and the regional supply.

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

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 large issues, together with the destiny of insurgent fighters and tens of millions of civilians, a lot 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 – one in every of President Tayyip Erdogan’s closest confidants – and Mamlouk evaluated how the 2 nations’ overseas ministers might ultimately meet, in accordance with a senior Turkish official and a Turkish safety supply.

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

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

RUSSIAN SHIFT

The Turkish safety official stated Russia has progressively withdrawn some navy sources from Syria with a purpose to give attention to Ukraine, and had requested Turkey to normalise relations with Assad to “speed up a political resolution” in Syria.

The Damascus-allied supply stated 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 stage, the supply stated.

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

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

A diplomat based mostly within the area stated Russia had pulled a restricted variety of troops out of Syria’s south earlier this summer time, significantly in areas alongside the border with Israel that had been later stuffed 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 stated the Turkish-Syrian contacts had made quite a lot of progress, with out giving particulars.

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

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

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

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

UNTHINKABLE BECOMES THINKABLE

Turkish-Syrian rapprochement appeared unthinkable earlier within the Syrian battle, which spiralled out of an rebellion in opposition to Assad in 2011, killing lots of of hundreds of individuals, drawing in quite a few overseas powers, and splintering the nation.

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

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

Erdogan faces tight elections subsequent yr wherein a key subject can be repatriating a few of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey.

The Turkish-Syrian contacts come in opposition to 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 stated Putin had steered 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 in opposition to the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara deems a nationwide safety risk. Russia has signalled opposition to such an incursion.

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