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Türkiye may extend invitation to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, says president

The Turkish president on Friday signaled a new diplomatic peace initiative with Damascus, suggesting a potential invitation to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

“We, together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, may have an invitation to Bashar al-Assad,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists on his return flight from Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where he attended a two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

“If Mr. Putin can visit Türkiye, this could be the beginning of a new process.”

“The passing years in Syria have clearly shown everyone the need for establishing a permanent solution,” the Turkish leader said, referring to the violence and chaos since the 2011 civil war in the Arab country.

He underlined Syria’s critical need for reconstruction and stability, underscoring the impact of widespread infrastructure damage and societal upheaval.

Erdogan said recent regional tranquility on the matter could open the door to peace with policies and approaches that are free from prejudices. “It is a problem that the instability in the region provides space for terrorist organizations, especially the PKK/PYD/YPG.”

The eradication of these terrorist organizations is vital for Syria’s future, Erdogan said, advocating for the establishment of democratic foundations and inclusive peace initiatives based on upholding the country’s territorial integrity.

“We have always extended and will continue to extend a hand of friendship to our neighbor Syria. We would stand by a prosperous, unified Syria based on a fair, honorable, and inclusive new social contract. All we ask is that Syria initiates this great embrace and achieves recovery in every aspect,” the Turkish president said.

He said it is not countries but terror groups such as the PKK and its offshoots that are worried about Ankara’s renewed ties with Damascus.

Regarding a recent incident in the Turkish city of Kayseri, which led to violence and negative social media trends against Syrians, Erdogan said some elements aim to use racism to disrupt unity, but authorities will tackle them.

Putin’s ‘desire for peace’

The Turkish president also commented on the Ukraine conflict that has been continuing for over two years, expressing concern that some Western countries and entities were escalating the risk of World War III in order to benefit arms dealers.

He said Putin has recently shown a desire for peace, referring to the Russian leader’s remarks that the 2022 Istanbul agreements remain “on the table” and can serve as a foundation for peace negotiations with Ukraine.

Erdogan said achieving peace requires significant mediation efforts, which Türkiye is committed to. “We have asked, ‘When will we achieve peace?’ The response was that there is no specific timeline, and the key lies in mediators like us making a significant impact.”

He hoped for a resolution to the conflict soon and mentioned that Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Defense Minister Yasar Guler are actively monitoring the situation.

“This war benefits neither Russia nor Ukraine. The only winners of the war are the merchants of blood and death,” he said.

Erdogan also reiterated Türkiye’s commitment to a fairer global system, advocating for adherence to international law and comprehensive counter-terrorism efforts.

Türkiye’s expectations from new NATO secretary general

Erdogan also spoke on Türkiye’s expectations from NATO’s new secretary general, Mark Rutte. He expressed hope that Rutte would support Türkiye’s interests and mentioned his plans to visit Türkiye before taking charge this October.

He emphasized Türkiye’s ongoing fight against terrorism and its disappointment with allies who, he lamented, contrary to NATO’s unity, have not supported Türkiye adequately and have even encouraged terrorist organizations.

Urges West to pressure Israel

On Israel’s relentless attacks in Gaza that have killed more than 38,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, 2023, Erdogan emphasized the need for collective pressure from Western countries on Tel Aviv to achieve a definitive cease-fire. He expressed hope that US President Joe Biden’s intervention and Qatar’s efforts will lead to a lasting truce.

Erdogan said Hamas has accepted a proposed cease-fire draft with amendments, and the head of Israel’s spy agency Mossad is traveling to Doha, while Biden plans to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward.

He said Israel’s military build-up in the Greek Cypriot administration has not met its objectives, and stressed the importance of avoiding actions that could escalate the conflict further.

Grey wolf sign controversy

Erdogan also addressed the controversy over Turkish footballer Merih Demiral’s celebration at EURO 2024 match against Austria which Türkiye won 2-1, when he formed the shape of a wolf’s head with his fingers, known as grey wolf sign in Turkish culture. He said no one criticizes other nations for their national symbols such as the eagle on German uniforms or the rooster on French shirts.

He said Merih’s gesture was a personal expression of excitement, and that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has handled the situation.

Erdogan expressed hope for a victory in Saturday’s match against Netherlands in the quarterfinals to advance to the next round, and said he plans to attend the game in Berlin.