Erdogan says Turkey keeping 'low-level' contact with Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

But with support from Russian Federation and Iran, Assad has recaptured large parts of Syria from rebel fighters, driving them from most of their former strongholds.

The Turkish leader has ruled out direct talks with Assad, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December Ankara was only in contact with Damascus through third parties, namely Russian Federation and Iran.

Erdogan's comments Sunday are the first time he has confirmed direct low-level talks with Damascus.

That has prompted Turkey to put on hold its plans to launch a military operation in Syria to drive out Syrian Kurdish militia deemed as "terrorists" by Ankara.

"We want everything to be clarified because there is an atrocity, there is a murder", Erdogan told an interview with state-run TRT television.

"Leaders may be cut out".

Asked about the United States withdrawal plan, Erdogan said he hoped Washington would pull out its troops out of Syria soon. "Because you might need that rope some time", Erdoğan added.

The Turkish president also said that a proposed safe zone in northeastern Syria, which President Donald Trump has said should be established as USA forces withdraw from the area, could not be set up by Western coalition forces without Turkey.

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The US-Turkish consensus would see to label the sought buffer zone under the title of "safeguarding Turkish national security" and would stretch some 20 and 32 kilometers into Syria, but away from of US military outposts.

He said: "We can not trust coalition forces. they have neither troops to ensure security there nor logistical means", Erdogan said. "No problem there. But we can't leave the region for coalition forces".

The Turkish army launched two major operations in Syria in 2016 and 2018 to battle Syrian Kurdish fighters, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) combatants.

President Donald Trump, last December announced he would be withdrawing some 2,000 American troops in Syria.

Outstanding issues such as a fly ban on Turkish air forces, offsetting a Turkish offensive and the protection of local Kurdish populations will be decided on in upcoming talks with the US-Turkish committee in Washington, scheduled for Tuesday, before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu meet on the sidelines of the global anti-ISIS Coalition.

USA forces are set to depart from Syria where they worked closely with the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to have terrorism links.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday he plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi on February 14.

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