ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday his country and Russia want a cease-fire in Syria, where the two nations support opposing camps in the conflict.
Speaking alongside his Russian counterpart in a Turkish resort town, Sergey Lavrov, Cavusoglu said, “We are in agreement that a cease-fire is needed so that the tragedy can come to an end.”
Ankara and Moscow have long been at odds over the conflict in Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar Assad and Turkey supports rebel factions fighting to topple the Syrian leader.
The conflict has played out tragically in the divided city of Aleppo, where tens of thousands, mostly women and children, have been displaced from their homes in rebel-held areas since Saturday.
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Cavusoglu said a cease-fire was needed in all of Syria but especially in Aleppo, where multiple temporary truces have fallen apart, in order for humanitarian aid to be delivered.
In reference to eastern Aleppo, Lavrov said his country will continue its support for the Syrian government until the city is “cleared of terrorists.”
Russia and Turkey disagree over which elements of the Syrian opposition constitute terrorists, with Moscow — like its Syrian ally — using the term loosely to encompass most armed opposition fighters. Despite that difference in approach, the interests of the two nations converge, at least in theory, when it comes to fighting the Islamic State group.
Turkey views the jihadist movement as an outcome of the international community’s failure to support the Syrian people against an authoritarian regime that has sought to bomb and starve its opponents to submission. “If there is no political solution in Syria, if there is no national unity, if its territorial integrity is not ensured, you may clear it of Daesh today, but tomorrow another organization will appear,” Cavusoglu said using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Moscow has been a staunch defender of the Syrian government and says its military involvement in the country is designed to stamp out IS and other extremists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused waves in Russia this week with remarks suggesting that Turkey’s military actions in Syria, where it has a small presence ostensibly to counter IS and contain the gains of Kurdish foes, aims to topple the Assad regime.
“Our president’s, our views on Assad are known,” said Cavusoglu. “We know that Assad is responsible for the deaths of 600,000 people. We may at times have different views on Assad with Russia, that is natural but in general on cease-fire, on humanitarian aid and a political solution — we are in agreement with Russia.”
The differences over Syria have translated into strained relations between Moscow and Ankara although the two nations have recently sought to downplay the divide. Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to “deepen” cooperation with Russia while Lavrov said the two nations agreed that the “normalization (of ties) must be achieved fast.”