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Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iran hold high-level talks in Moscow

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The foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran have met in Moscow for high-level talks on rebuilding ties between Ankara and Damascus after years of animosity during Syria’s war.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying by the Syrian state news agency SANA that “despite all the negatives of the past years, there is an opportunity” for Damascus and Ankara to work together.

But the priority for the Syrian government was ending the presence of all foreign militaries, including Turkey’s. “Without progress in this matter, we will remain stagnant and will not reach any real results,” Mekdad was quoted as saying.

Syria’s northwest includes territory held by opposition groups, including armed forces backed by Turkey.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that there had been a “positive and constructive atmosphere” and that the countries’ deputy foreign ministers would be tasked with preparing a roadmap to advance Syria-Turkey ties.

In his opening speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope that the meeting would pave the way to drafting a road map for normalising Turkey-Syria relations.

Lavrov said he sees Moscow’s task as “not only in consolidating politically the progress that has been made, but also in determining general guidelines for further movement”.

Moscow is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally and Russia has encouraged reconciliation with Turkey. Syrian and Turkish defence ministers also held talks in Moscow in December.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed the need for “cooperation in the fight against terrorism and working together to establish the basis for the return of Syrians” during the meeting, he said in a tweet.

Cavusoglu said “taking the political process in Syria forward and protection of Syria’s territorial integrity” were the other issues discussed.

NATO member Turkey has backed political and armed opposition to al-Assad during the 12-year war, and sent its troops into the country’s north. It is also hosting more than 3.5 million refugees from its neighbour.

Arab League invite

Also on Wednesday, al-Assad was formally invited to attend the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19 in a significant sign that the regional isolation of Damascus has thawed.

Foreign ministers from Arab League member states agreed at the headquarters in Cairo on Sunday to reinstate Syria’s membership after its suspension more than 10 years ago.

Arab states have been looking to normalise ties, working towards an “Arab-led political path” in solving the crisis and continuing direct dialogue on common issues including the refugee crisis, “terrorism”, and drug smuggling.

The restoration of ties with Damascus quickened pace following the deadly February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the Chinese-brokered re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

While Saudi Arabia had long resisted normalising relations with al-Assad, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud visited Damascus last month for the first time in more than a decade, and the two countries are also restoring embassies and flights between them.

The decision to allow Syria back into the Arab League has sparked anger among many residents of opposition-held areas of Syria and members of the country’s political opposition, who see it as a vindication of the government’s attacks against them during a now 12-year war.

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