Syrian Foreign Minister Mekdad: Turkey will have to “lift occupation” to normalize relations

A meeting between the leaders of Syria and Turkey is impossible without “removing the causes of the dispute,” and diplomatic relations cannot be normalized without the withdrawal of Turkish troops, Damascus warned. Ankara was bringing in troops to create a “security zone” of 30 km

Turkey is obliged to withdraw troops from Syria to normalize relations between the two countries. Without doing so, a diplomatic rapprochement would be impossible, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Amir Abdollahi
Amir Abdollahian, Reuters reported.

“We cannot talk about resuming normal relations with Turkey without lifting the occupation,” the minister said, pointing out that a meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Turkish leadership depends “on eliminating the causes of the dispute.”

The Iranian foreign minister said Tehran was satisfied with the talks between Damascus and Ankara. The Syrian government wants to see progress on the issue before it agrees to a meeting of foreign ministers, a source close to the dialogue process told Reuters.

Turkey in October 2019 announced a military operation, “The Source of Peace,” against the Kurds in Syria, near its border. At the time, Ankara said the goal was to create a 30-kilometer security zone. First, the U.S. agreed with the Turkish side on a five-day cease-fire, at the end of which Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum to stop the fighting. Turkey retained the main territory occupied during the operation, but failed to create a security zone on the entire border with Syria. The Syrian authorities consider Turkey’s actions illegal.

In late December, the heads of the Ministries of Defense of Syria and Turkey, Hulusi Akar and Ali Mahmoud Abbas, met in Moscow in the presence of their Russian colleague, Sergei Shoigu. According to Al Jazeera, the two sides agreed to form special committees of defense and intelligence representatives, with meetings to begin in late January in Moscow and then in Ankara and Damascus. They also agreed to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees and discussed the presence of the Syrian Democratic Forces (a military association that includes Kurdish units) in northern Syria.

AlWatan, quoting sources in Damascus, reported that Turkey had agreed to withdraw troops from Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, warned that the country would take new measures in 2023 to “close the gap” on its border with Syria.