image Photo: Reuters

Iran, Russia, Syria, Turkey hold talks

Defense and intelligence leaders of the 4 countries met in Moscow to as part of efforts to rebuild ties between Ankara and Damascus after years of animosity during the Syrian Civil War.

 By Erin Viner

The “constructive” meetings also focused on strengthening security in Syria, the Turkish and Russian Defense Ministries said in separate statements.

NATO alliance member Turkey has supported political and armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the 12-year conflict, and has deployed its own troops into the country’s north.

Assad’s primary allies are Russia and Iran.

Moscow has been pushing reconciliation with Ankara – although until now, Syrian officials have repeatedly insisted that any moves towards normalizing ties can only come after Turkey agrees to a full withdrawal of the thousands of troops it has stationed in the rebel-held northwest. Turkey’s extensive military presence has prevented previous Russian-led military campaigns from returning the last major insurgent-controlled enclave in Syria back under state control.

The Syrian Defense Ministry said the talks discussed the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria in tandem with opening the strategic M4 highway, that would facilitate the resumption of Syria’s trade with neighboring states.

According to the Russian and Turkish statements, all four countries reaffirmed commitment to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity, as well as the need to intensify efforts for the expedited return of displaced refugees to the Arab Republic.

Russia hosted the Syrian and Turkish Defense Ministers last December in what had been the highest-level encounter between the two countries since the start of the war in 2011.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asserted last week that talks slated for early May with his counterparts from Iran, Syria and Russia would build on those December talks, but he later said the meeting will be postponed because the parties could not agree on an exact date.