In an exclusive interview with Sky News Arabic on Wednesday, Assad adamantly dismissed rumors of an upcoming meeting with Erdogan despite earlier meetings between Turkish and Syrian defense and foreign ministers under Russian and Iranian mediation to restore strained ties.
“Erdogan’s goal in meeting me is to legitimize the presence of the Turkish occupation in Syria, so the meeting cannot take place under Erdogan’s conditions,” Assad said, adding, “Why should I and Erdogan meet? To have soft drinks?”
Asked about Erdogan’s claims that Turkey’s withdrawal from Syria will not take place as long as there is “terrorism” threatening Turkey, Assad replied, “The truth is, terrorism in Syria is a Turkish industry. Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are different names for one side, all of which are Turkish. They are funded until this moment by Turkey, so what kind of terrorism is he talking about?”
The Syrian leader underlined that Ankara must put forward a timetable for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from his country for normalization of ties.
Last month, Erdogan said Ankara had not closed the door on peace negotiations with Damascus and that he was “open” to a meeting with his Syrian counterpart.
Turkey severed its relations with Syria in March 2012, a year after the Arab country found itself in the grip of deadly violence waged by foreign-backed militants.
Now, after over a decade, the two neighboring countries are taking steps toward reconciliation.
In the meantime, Turkey deployed forces in Syria in October 2019 in violation of the Arab country’s territorial integrity.
Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, since it started. Turkey has also played a major role in supporting terrorists in Syria ever since major foreign-backed insurgency overtook the country more than ten years ago.