Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that Syria and Russia boosted cooperation during his visit to the country. He also shed light on rapprochement with Turkey and expressed an openness to Russia deepening its military presence in Syria.
Assad flew to Moscow on Tuesday and held talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday. He gave a lengthy interview to Russian state-owned news outlet Sputnik after the meeting, which was published on Thursday.
In the interview, Assad said that the Russian and Syrian entities will sign agreements pertaining to 40 “specific investment projects” related to energy, electricity, oil, transport, housing, industry and other sectors. The agreements were discussed during a Russia-Syria joint commission meeting that occurred during the visit and will be signed within weeks, according to him.
“Joint Russian-Syrian commissions have held meetings several times, but their results have not been what we had been striving for,” Assad told Sputnik. “This time, the meeting of the joint commission was different.”
Assad also said he and Putin discussed Syria’s rapprochement with Turkey. Late last year, the Turkish government signaled it was open to dialogue with Syria. Relations were severed in 2012 and Turkey continues to militarily support Syrian rebel forces in the north, much to the Syrian government’s chagrin. The Turkish and Syrian intelligence heads met in Moscow in December. Turkish and Syrian officials had said they would hold low-level talks in Moscow this week, but the summit was postponed.
A resumption of normal relations could be a ways off. In the Sputnik interview, Assad described Turkey as an “occupying state” in Syria and said he will not meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at present.
Assad said that direct contact with Erdogan is “impossible” due to Turkey’s “support of terrorists in Syria” and the Turkish military presence in the country.
He said a meeting with Erdogan is conditional upon Turkey withdrawing its forces from Syria.
“It’s tied to us reaching a stage where Turkey is clearly and unambiguously ready for the full withdrawal of the Turkish military from the territory of Syria, for the cessation of supporting terrorism and restoration of the situation to the state it was before the start of the war in Syria,” he said.
At the same time, Assad said he “trusts” Russia to be a mediator in the Turkey-Syria dialogue.
Assad addressed Russia’s military presence in Syria. He declined to go into what specifically he discussed with Putin on the matter but expressed an openness to the Russian military staying in Syria long term.
“If there is such a desire, then we believe that the expansion of the Russian presence in Syria is good,” said Assad.
Editor's note: this article was updated to include information on the planned Turkey-Syria summit in Moscow.