Turkey’s government is considering establishing a dialogue with the Syrian government, the Hürriyet newspaper reported on Monday citing unidentified sources.
The discussions would encapsulate three critical topics – protecting the unitary structure of the Syrian state, preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and ensuring the safe return of refugees, Hürriyet said.
Syria’s unity is of particular importance due to the activities of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the country and in the Kurdish autonomous region, the newspaper said. This was conveyed to the Syrian side ahead of President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates last month, it reported.
The process could lead to the return of at least half of the Syrian refugees residing in Turkey to their homeland, Hürriyet said, citing one source.
Turkey has supported the civil war against Assad since it began eleven years ago. It has backed militant groups in the north of the country and conducted military interventions to tackle the threat it says is posed by the PKK and affiliated Kurdish groups, seizing territory from them with the help of Islamist proxies. Turkey keeps thousands of troops in Syria, running dozens of military outposts and bases.
The sources said that relations between Ankara and Damascus had been held back by Russia and Iran. But with Russia preoccupied with the war in Ukraine and global reaction to it, there was an opportunity for an improvement in ties, they said.
Ankara thinks that Assad’s visit to the UAE demonstrates that he needs to take new initiatives and to create new support, and that different means were being sought to that end, Hürriyet said. Turkey could use this process in its favour, when taking into consideration the improvement in its own relations with the UAE, the sources said.
More than three million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey.
Assad visited the UAE in mid-March, a month after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held talks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to help repair fractured ties with the Gulf kingdom.
Assad’s meetings with the UAE’s leadership marked a potential warming in Syria’s relations with Arab neighbours, who had previously isolated him diplomatically. The United States criticised the trip, saying it was “profoundly disappointed”. The leaders discussed how the UAE might provide political and humanitarian support for Syria, according to Emirati state media.
Turkey has worked with Russia and Iran, who both support the Assad regime, to chart out a possible roadmap for peace in Syria, meeting 17 times under the so-called Astana process. They held their most recent meeting in December.