ANKARA — Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Ankara and Damascus would hold low-level talks next week in a bid to continue political dialogue between the Turkish and Syrian governments.
Speaking at a joint presser with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian who paid a solidarity visit to Turkey after the Feb. 6 earthquakes, Cavusoglu said Iran would also join the talks that will be below the ministerial level. The parties are working on preparations for a possible ministerial meeting between Cavusoglu and his Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in a four-way format, but only if the upcoming meetings in Russia make progress.
“Russia has offered to hold technical talks next week in preparation for a possible meeting between the foreign ministers. We will send our deputy foreign minister to Moscow and the Iranian side will also join these talks,” said Cavusoglu.
The Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers were expected to gather soon after the first high-level meeting between the Turkish, Syrian and Russian defense ministers and intelligence chiefs in Moscow in December. Yet, the progress after more than a decade of hostilities between Ankara and Damascus has apparently hit a snag, as Cavusoglu’s cautious tone indicated.
“A meeting at the level of foreign ministers could be held at a later stage, at a time that we all see fit,” he said.
Damascus has been insisting on the withdrawal of the Turkish military from Syrian areas in the north. Speaking in January, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stressed that the process needed to “produce tangible results sought by Syria, based on the national principles to end the occupation and stop support of terrorism.”
Ankara, for its part, is seeking Damascus’ cooperation against the US-allied Syrian Kurdish groups that it considers terrorist and to facilitate the return of the some of the 4 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey. Growing angst over the refugees, soaring costs of living, and the Turkish government’s frustrating response to the twin earthquakes are playing a central role in the Turkish opposition’s campaign ahead of the fateful May 14 elections.
Abdollahian said his country was ready to do its part to resolve the disagreements between Ankara and Damascus under the four-way format.
Tehran slams Baku over ties with Israel amid simmering tensions
The two top diplomats also discussed the simmering tensions in the southern Caucasus region as Abdollahian said his country was ready to hold three-way meetings between Tehran, Baku and Ankara.
The ties between Iran and Azerbaijan have witnessed a major escalation after an attack on the Azeri Embassy in Tehran in January that killed a member of the Azeri diplomatic mission. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has blamed the “Iranian establishment” for the attack.
The two countries’ ties were already fraught by several problems including Iran’s restive Azeri population in its northern territories, Iran’s support of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region contested between Yerevan and Baku and improving relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.
In a thinly veiled jab at Baku, Abdullahian blamed the crises in the Caucasus on Israel and warned regional countries against allowing Israeli influence in the region.
Turkish and Israeli military support helped Baku to regain control of a series of areas in the Nagorno-Karabakh region during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war in 2020. Baku also announced last year that it was planning to open an embassy in Israel.
Abdollahian said he and his Turkish counterpart also discussed bilateral issues during their meeting including cooperation on economy, energy and transportation as well as the longstanding water-sharing problem from the transboundary Aras River. The Iranian minister traveled to Adiyaman, one of the hardest-hit eastern Turkish provinces by the earthquakes that killed more than 46,100 people.