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Erdogan hosts Putin’s Syria envoy as cooperation tightens

By AFP - May 31,2018 - Last updated at May 31,2018

People walk near a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad hanging in a street in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday (AFP photo)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks on Thursday with the envoy on Syria of Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin official’s second visit to Ankara in a week as cooperation deepens.

Erdogan hosted Alexander Lavrentiev for talks at his Ankara palace, the Turkish presidency said, without elaborating on their discussion.

Lavrentiev last visited Ankara on May 24, when he had come directly from talks the day earlier in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad, an eye-catching itinerary that startled analysts.

On that occasion he met with Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and top foreign ministry officials. In Moscow, the foreign ministry said only they had discussed “tasks aimed at advancing the political solution in Syria”.

Erdogan and Putin also held the latest in a series of phone conversations on Tuesday, discussing issues including Syria.

Turkey and Russia have been on opposing sides of the civil war in Syria since the conflict broke out in 2011, with Moscow the key backer of Assad and Turkey pressing for his ouster.

But since Russia’s military intervention in Syria began to tip the balance especially from late 2016, Ankara and Moscow have been working increasingly closely to find a peaceful end to the civil war.

Turkey’s official policy remains to oppose Assad, whom Erdogan has repeatedly denounced as a “murderer”. But Ankara has softened its rhetoric against Damascus since the cooperation with Russia began, prioritising the fight against Kurdish militia in northern Syria deemed by Turkey to be terrorists.

Some analysts have speculated that Russia would like to see a rapprochement between Erdogan and Assad in order to lay the foundation for a peaceful and stable postwar Syria, although there have been no signs of this coming to fruition.

Yet ,Turkey was likely to have been pleased with comments by Assad in an interview broadcast on Thursday suggesting he is prepared to use force against the Kurdish militia in northern Syria despised by Ankara.

Prior to the civil war, Erdogan, then prime minister, and Assad enjoyed a relatively warm relationship frequently exchanging visits up to 2010. Their wives Emine and Asma also have cordial public ties.

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