Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected efforts by his Russian allies to arrange a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refusing to give him leverage in next year’s upcoming elections in Turkiye.
According to an anonymous source with knowledge of the Syrian regime’s thinking, cited by the Reuters news agency, Assad fears that accepting a meeting with Erdogan would only hand the Turkish leader another achievement in time for the country’s elections in June next year.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections” is reportedly the Syrian president’s line of thinking, as his counterpart could potentially use the meeting as a way to console the Turkish population which is growing increasingly frustrated with the presence of millions of Syrian refugees within the country.
Another anonymous source – a diplomat quoted by the agency – said that Damascus is also still expecting Ankara to remove its forces from the liberated territories of northern Syria, which the Turkish military and its allied Syrian opposition forces have captured over the years and numerous operations. A meeting said the diplomat, is “useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
The Turkish leadership’s openness to meet with their Syrian counterparts was expressed in recent weeks as Erdogan iterated that a meeting with Assad is possible, following his previous confirmation that intelligence talks and cooperation with Syria has restarted and been ongoing.
It comes after a year in which a series of reports emerged indicating that Ankara would reconcile with Assad and his regime, 11 years after cutting off ties due to the Syrian security services’ brutal crackdown on peaceful protests during the Syrian revolution.
In July, the Turkish government also said that it is willing to work with Damascus to bring the Kurdish militias in north-east Syria under control, and the following month Erdogan directly admitted that he does not seek to remove Assad from power.
A meeting between the two leaders is reportedly not entirely impossible, however. According to another source with knowledge of Turkiye’s thinking who spoke to Reuters, a meeting could potentially take place “in the not too distant future”.
“[Russian president Vladimir] Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the source stated. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkey. Russia would benefit too…given it is stretched in many areas.”
The Syrian president’s reported refusal to meet with his Turkish counterpart also comes after Erdogan’s historic handshake with his Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi last month – another leader who the Turkish president had refused to be in contact with throughout almost a decade due to the 2013 military coup in Egypt which ousted the country’s first democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi and allowed the country’s military to massacre of over 1,000 protestors.