Assad ready to sit down with ‘enemy’ Erdoğan for talks on Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad told local media he viewed his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an enemy, but would hold a meeting with the Turkish president in the national interest, despite his disgust, the Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday.

Assad accused Erdoğan of trying to turn the Turkish people against their neighbours, and said the president’s Syria policy had contradicted the views of the Turkish army and most Turks.

But signalling his readiness to hold talks, the Syrian president said it was important “not to turn Turkey into an enemy, and here comes the role of friends – the Russian role and Iranian role.”

"At the beginning of the war, the Turkish Army supported the Syrian Army and cooperated with us to the greatest possible extent, until Erdoğan's coup against the army," the Jerusalem Post quoted Assad as saying.

"Therefore, we must continue in this direction, and ensure that Turkey does not become an enemy state. Erdoğan and his group are enemies, because he leads these policies, but until now most of the political forces in Turkey are against Erdoğan’s policies,” he said.

With Russian backing, Assad’s government has recaptured most of the country from opposition groups after eight years of fighting, but significant parts of northern Syria are held by Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies.

Turkey launched its most recent offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Oct. 9 after U.S. forces withdrew from the Syrian-Turkish border.

The SDF, whose affiliates had ruled large parts of northern Syria in autonomous administrations, turned to Damascus for help in quelling the Turkish advance, and is expected to strike a deal with Assad that would see control of the region returned to the central government.

Syrian government forces and the Russian air force this year have also been bombarding the last strong rebel presence in the country in Idlib, a northwestern governorate that is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians and Turkish-backed rebel groups.

Turkey cut diplomatic ties with the Damascus government in 2012 and began backing rebel groups. Russia’s intercession in the conflict in 2015 helped tip the balance in Assad’s favour, and Ankara’s policy priorities shifted to defeating the SDF and other groups that are linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

A peace process backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey last month reached the stage of talks between government, opposition and civil society representatives on the creation of a new constitution.