The Defense Ministers of Russia, Syria, Türkiye and Iran held a new round of consultations in Moscow on Tuesday, which focused on security and military presence near the border areas in northern Syria.
The results of the closed-door meeting constituted preparations for holding upcoming talks at the level of foreign ministers, which is expected to take place on May 2, a Russian diplomatic source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced that the meeting discussed ways to intensify efforts to return the Syrian refugees to their homeland.
Syrian Al-Watan newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that the statement published by the Turkish Ministry of Defense, which highlighted concrete steps related to normalization of ties between Türkiye and Syria, was false, stressing that the meeting discussed the mechanism for the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territory, and did not address any normalization steps.
Moscow deliberately kept secret the details of the “military and security” meeting, abstaining from announcing details in advance. The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a brief press statement, stressing “the positive spirit that prevailed during the discussions.”
“Practical steps were discussed in the field of strengthening security in the Syrian Arab Republic and normalizing Syrian-Turkish relations,” the statement read.
This is the second meeting at the same level after the defense ministers and heads of the security services in Syria, Türkiye and Russia held previous talks at the end of 2022, which laid the basis for moving towards the normalization of Syrian-Turkish relations under Russian auspices. Iran, which reportedly objected to its absence from the first round of consultations, joined the talks later.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, a well-informed Russian diplomat described the meeting as “very serious and positive”. He noted that the talks “are focusing on issues that require more coordination, especially in areas related to security and anti-terrorism, which have been given priority because they are linked to the protection of national security of both Syria and Türkiye.”
In Ankara, the Turkish Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the meeting discussed “concrete steps” that could be taken to normalize relations between Ankara and Damascus, and means to intensify efforts to return Syrian refugees to their lands.
The statement added that the meeting also touched on ways to combat terrorist organizations and extremist groups on Syrian soil, and to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity.
Ankara preempted the meeting by affirming that it would not withdraw its forces from northern Syria, without ruling out, at the same time, a meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bashar al-Assad, “according to a special road map, and without preconditions.”
However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated, in a televised interview on Monday night, that his country’s forces would not withdraw from northern Syria and northern Iraq at the present time, saying: “Our withdrawal from northern Syria and northern Iraq means ending our military operations against terrorism…This poses a threat to our national security.”