Turkish, Syrian FMs could meet soon as diplomatic thaw gains steam

The diplomatic thaw between Ankara and Damascus has gained momentum, with the top Turkish diplomat saying he could meet with his Syrian counterpart in mid-January.

Turkish Foreign Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday that his country made a “positive response” to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov’s offer to hold a three-way meeting between the top Turkish, Syrian and Russian diplomats in the second week of January, Turkish media reported.

The meeting could be held in a third country other than Russia, Cavusoglu told Turkish reporters who are accompanying him on a trip to Brazil.

“We defend Syria’s territorial integrity,” Cavusoglu said in response to a question over news reports that Turkey could withdraw its troops from northern Syria. “However, we can’t in any way allow a vacuum to be created there to be filled in by terrorist organizations,” he added.

His remarks came after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Friday that Ankara, Damascus and Moscow were working on Turkish, Syrian and Russian joint missions in Syria.

Akar and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan met with their Syrian and Russian counterparts this past Wednesday, holding landmark talks marking the first official high-level talks between Ankara and Damascus after diplomatic relations between the two countries broke off in 2012. Turkey backs Sunni Syrian rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. Turkey controls a large chunk of territory in Syria's north in cooperation with armed Syrian opposition groups.

The recent rapprochement between the two capitals comes as Ankara threatens to launch a fresh ground offensive against the Syrian Kurdish groups that Turkey considers “terrorist organizations” amid ongoing Turkish air campaigns against their positions in northern Syria.

The talks in Moscow earlier this week focused on combating “all sorts of terrorism” and refugee issues, an official Turkish statement said following the meeting.

A tripartite meeting between the top Turkish, Syrian and Russian diplomats could be followed by a three-way meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syrian President Assad and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as the Turkish president signaled earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the swift rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus has set off a series of protests in the Syrian regions held by Turkish-backed rebels with hundreds of people taking to the streets.

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