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Turkey, Russia and Syria to hold foreign ministers’ meeting in latest detente attempts

ANKARA: Turkey, Russia and Syria are due to hold a foreign ministers’ meeting later this month following historic talks between the three countries’ defense ministers in Moscow that signaled a warming of relations between Ankara and Damascus.

TRT, Turkey’s state broadcaster, said on Saturday that the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers had discussed preparations for the new meeting, most likely in the second half of this month. The location has not yet been determined.

Defense ministers and intelligence chiefs from three countries recently met in Moscow as part of the ongoing reconciliation process between Ankara and Damascus. They also agreed to continue their meetings.

Dr. Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told Arab News that the meeting of foreign ministers would be “an important step on the road to restoring a certain normality in the region”.

This “will help restore confidence and security along the 900 km border between the two countries”, he said.

Ankara and Damascus are united in their opposition to the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria, seen by Turkey as an offshoot of the banned PKK group that has waged a bloody war against the Turkish state for decades.

Damascus considers the YPG as an obstacle to the territorial integrity of the country.

Ankara has also been threatened with launching a ground offensive in northern Syria to ensure “internal security” following a suicide bombing last year in Istanbul that it blamed on Kurdish militants.

Turkey and Syria discussed cooperation in counterterrorism efforts at the defense chiefs’ meeting.

According to Landis, diplomacy is the only alternative to war and further incursions and bombings would only radicalize people and undermine law and order.

“Ending the Daesh threat will require the restoration of Syrian sovereignty and a unified military and police force. As long as Syria is divided into three mini-warring states, Daesh will have leeway,” he said.

“From Turkiye’s perspective, only the Syrian regime can restore security along the border,” Landis added.

“The 1998 Adana Agreement was a great success in restoring normal relations between the two countries. It has brought rapid growth in trade and good relations between the two countries,” he added.

The Adana Agreement was concluded between Turkey and Syria in 1998 to expel the PKK from Syrian soil and eliminate Turkey’s internal security problems.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish Foreign Minister, hinted Thursday that Turkey was ready to hand over the Syrian areas under its control to Damascus “when political stability is established”.

Ankara insists on the creation of a 30 km deep “buffer zone” along its southern borders and the withdrawal of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of which the YPG is a prominent member.

Turkish and Syrian foreign ministers had a brief informal conversation in 2021 on the sidelines of a regional summit, while Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies are in constant communication.

However, Landis said he did not expect the apparent detente to end the Syrian conflict this year.

“It is optimistic to think that the many border issues can be resolved within a year, but a good start can be made with the meeting of foreign ministers and then the Turkish and Syrian presidents,” he said.

The ongoing reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus also has the potential to strengthen Russia’s role in determining the future of Syria, while Moscow is currently pushing for three-way negotiations to prevent any escalation of the Turkish military advance in Syria.

According to Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, a meeting of foreign ministers would mark a new stage in the recently initiated rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.

“Expectations for this first meeting should be kept relatively low as the conditions for progress in these talks are quite substantial,” he told Arab News.

He said there was a long way to go before Turkey agreed to end its support for opposition groups fighting the Syrian regime and withdraw from the north of the country.

“The outcome of these initial deliberations may be to agree on a roadmap on full normalization, where both sides meet the conditions and Damascus respects the security guarantees for Turkey, recalling the Adana agreement” , did he declare.

However, he said Ankara currently has no incentive to withdraw its troops. He added that there should be guarantees that the Syrian regime can control these areas and prevent their use against Turkey’s security interests.

The normalization process with Damascus would likely hasten the return of millions of Syrian refugees to Turkey, bolstering domestic support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid rising anti-immigration sentiment.

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