Russia to host Turkey, Syria, Iran diplomats on Wednesday

Senior Turkish, Syrian, Iranian and Russian diplomats are set to meet to advance the stalled rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.

Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar and his Syrian counterpart Ayman Susan will meet in Moscow on Wednesday for two days as part of efforts to advance the Ankara-Damascus thaw, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News agency reported on Monday.

The two-day talks will be hosted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The Iranian side will be represented by Ali-Ashgar Khaji, senior aide to Iran’s foreign minister, according to the report.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced last week that the offer to hold a low-level meeting between the parties came from Russia, which has been mediating between the Turkish and Syrian governments and that Iran would also participate in the process.

During the talks this week, the four parties will try to overcome differences between Ankara and Damascus in a bid to pave the way for a meeting between Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers under the four-way format.

Coming after more than a decade of hostility between the two, the Russian-mediated Ankara-Damascus thaw began late last year when the Turkish and Syrian defense ministers and intelligence chiefs held the first high-level meeting in Moscow. The high-level talks were expected to be followed by a meeting between the Syrian and Turkish top diplomats before the rapprochement process lost steam.

Speaking at a joint presser with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian last week, Cavusoglu signaled that there were some impediments before a new round of high-level talks, saying that a “possible meeting” between the foreign ministers could be held depending on the outcome of this week’s technical talks.

Moscow and Tehran, the major backers of the Assad government since the start of the conflict have long been pressing Ankara to engage into a direct political dialogue with Damascus. Assad deems the Turkish forces controlling a series of Syrian enclaves in the war-torn country’s northern region as “occupiers” and requests their withdrawal. Turkey, meanwhile, supports Sunni Syrian rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Ankara is seeking Damascus’ cooperation to begin the repatriation some 4 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey and against the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northeast Syria. Turkey considers the US-allied Syrian Kurdish groups terrorist organizations, equating them with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state for self-rule for some four decades. The United States and majority of the Western governments list the PKK, which has been cooperating its Syrian offshoot in the fight against the Islamic State, as a terror group.

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