President Bashar al-Assad and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister at the time, holding a meeting in Aleppo on 6 February, 2011 (Photo credit: Reuters)
Informed Syrian sources told media on 12 January that the upcoming meeting being planned between the foreign ministers of Syria, Turkiye, and Russia has not yet been scheduled, as the Damascus government has yet to officially approve the meeting.
“Damascus has not yet agreed to hold [the meeting] … [It] refused to set [the date of] the meeting before defining its objectives, at the forefront of which is the withdrawal of the Turkish army from the entirety of Syria’s territory,” the sources told Al-Mayadeen.
“The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has electoral goals regarding the rapprochement with the Syrian leadership … Damascus is not interested in offering them this card,” they added.
This suggests that for Turkiye, the reconciliation effort is a tool to portray Erdogan’s government as a champion in diplomacy, thereby strengthening his chances at reelection.
On the same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that a number of potential dates for the meeting have been presented to him, including some time next week, but that the proposed dates “do not fit [Turkiye’s] program.”
However, Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported two days earlier that “there is no agreed-upon date” for the foreign ministers’ meeting, and that “all news in this regard so far is devoid of truth.”
Last month, Syria rejected a proposed meeting between Erdogan and President Bashar al-Assad. At the time, a member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), lawmaker Orhan Miroğlu, said that Damascus does not accept to hold such a meeting until after the Turkish election.
This also likely relates to Turkiye’s reluctance to lay out an official groundwork for the eventual withdrawal of its forces from Syria, which, as mentioned before, is Syria’s leading demand. If Damascus has not yet even approved the foreign ministers’ meeting because of this, then a presidential meeting between the two countries must depend on more Turkish seriousness and willingness to make concessions.
The closest Turkiye has come to this are the comments made by Cavusoglu on 29 December, when he said that Ankara would consider a withdrawal and a handover of territory back to Damascus if “political stability” was reached.
Less than two weeks later, however, Erdogan’s top aide, Yasin Aktay, called for the Syrian governorate of Aleppo to be transferred over to Ankara’s control, suggesting that Turkiye may not be so easily willing to abandon its expansionist policy.
Until a Turkish withdrawal is set in stone, the official launching of the rapprochement process is highly unlikely. Similarly, if Washington continues its efforts to obstruct the process, it is likely to remain stalled.