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Russia to host talks between Turkey and Syria to normalise ties

Meetings will be held at a technical level between the defence ministers and intelligence chiefs of Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) exchanges documents with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (left) as Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan applaud in Sochi on 17 September 2018 (AFP)

Russia will host a new round of talks on Tuesday aimed at normalisation of ties between Ankara and Damascus, in the presence of Iran, said the Turkish defence ministry.

Moscow is seeking to repair relations between its Syrian ally and Turkey, which were severed at the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011.

"We are preparing for a meeting to be attended by defence ministers and intelligence chiefs" of all four countries, said Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defence minister.

"Our aim is to solve the problems through negotiations and to bring peace to the region as soon as possible."

Since Turkey began supporting rebel efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, formal talks between Ankara and Damascus have been scarce.

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Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once referring to Assad as a "murderer," he has recently shown a willingness to consider a peace-building summit with the Syrian leader. This effort has been supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Assad said he will only meet Erdogan if he withdraws troops from northern Syria.

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Erdogan has argued that a continued military presence ensures Turkey’s security in the face of attacks by Kurdish groups, which Ankara views as terrorists.

Syrian Kurdish forces played a central role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State militants.

Syrian and Turkish officials held meetings last year under the auspices of Russia, which has given military support to Damascus during the 12-year-long Syrian civil war.

In December, Russia hosted a meeting between the defence ministers of Syria and Turkey. Since then, the talks have been expanded to include Iran, another Assad ally, which has publicly supported the reconciliation efforts.

The upcoming talks will focus on the situation in Syria, but they are not expected to produce significant outcomes.

A meeting between the foreign ministers of the four countries was previously postponed after being scheduled in March.

Damascus' relations with regional powers have warmed in recent years, as Arab states move towards reintegrating Syria back into the regional fold after years of isolation.

Last week, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan held a meeting with Assad in Damascus in the first such visit by a top Saudi official since 2011.

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