ANKARA: Turkiye, Russia and Syria are to hold a meeting of foreign ministers later this month following landmark talks between the three countries’ defense ministers in Moscow that signaled a warming of relations between Ankara and Damascus.
TRT, the Turkish state broadcaster, announced on Saturday that Russian and Turkish foreign ministers discussed preparations for the new meeting, most likely in the second half of this month. The location has yet to be determined.
Defense ministers and intelligence chiefs of 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 foreign minister meeting would be “an important step on the road to restoring some normalcy to the region.”
It “will allow for the rebuilding of trust and security along the 900km border between the two countries,” he said.
Ankara and Damascus are united in their opposition to the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria, considered by Turkiye as an offshoot of the outlawed PKK group that has waged a bloody war against the Turkish state for decades.
Damascus sees the YPG as an impediment to the country’s territorial integrity.
Ankara has also threatened to launch a ground offensive into northern Syria to ensure “domestic security” following a suicide bombing last year in Istanbul that it has blamed on Kurdish militants.
Turkiye and Syria discussed cooperation on counterterrorism efforts during the meeting of defense chiefs.
According to Landis, diplomacy is the only alternative to war. Further incursions and bombings will only radicalize people and undermine law and order.
“The end to the Daesh threat will require the restoration of Syrian sovereignty and a unified military and police force. So long as Syria is divided into three warring mini-states, Daesh will have room to maneuver,” he said.
“From Turkiye’s point of view, 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 allowed for the rapid growth of trade and good relations between the two countries,” he added.
The Adana agreement was made between Turkiye and Syria in 1998 for expelling the PKK from Syrian soil and eliminating Turkey’s domestic security concerns.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkiye’s foreign minister, hinted on Thursday that Turkiye was ready to hand over Syrian areas under its control to Damascus “when political stability is established.”
Ankara insists on the establishment of a 30km-deep “buffer zone” along its southern borders and the withdrawal of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of which the YPG is a senior member.
Turkish and Syrian foreign ministers had a brief informal talk in 2021 on the sidelines of a regional summit, while Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies have been in constant communication.
However, Landis said that he did not expect the apparent detente to end the Syrian conflict this year.
“It is optimistic to think that the many border problems can be solved in a year, but a good start can be made with the meeting of foreign ministers and then Turkish and Syrian presidents,” he said.
The ongoing reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus also has the potential to boost Russia’s role in determining Syria’s future, while Moscow is currently pushing for three-way negotiations in order to prevent any escalation of Turkiye’s military advance into Syria.
According to Sinan Ulgen, director of Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM, a meeting of foreign ministers would signal a new milestone in the recently initiated rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.
“The expectations from this initial meeting should be kept relatively low because the conditions of progress on these talks are quite substantive,” he told Arab News.
He said that there was a long way to go before Turkiye agreed to end support for opposition groups fighting the Syrian regime and withdrew from the country’s north.
“The outcome of these initial deliberations would possibly be to agree a roadmap on full normalization, where both sides would fulfill conditions and Damascus would meet security guarantees for Turkiye, reminiscent of the Adana agreement,” he said.
However, he said that Ankara currently has no incentive to withdraw its troops. He added it would need guarantees that the Syrian regime could control these zones and prevent their use against Turkiye’s security interests.
The normalization process with Damascus would likely hasten the return of millions of Syrian refugees in Turkiye, which would boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s domestic support amid rising anti-immigration sentiment.