Reuters ISTANBUL (Reuters) — Turkey has maintained low-level contact with the Syrian government, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday, even though Ankara has supported rebels who fought for years to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan has described Assad as a terrorist and said several times during Syria’s eight-year conflict that the Syrian leader must go. But with support from Russia and Iran, Assad has recaptured large parts of Syria from rebel fighters, driving them from most of their former strongholds.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December Turkey and other countries would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election, and last month said Ankara was in indirect contact with Damascus via Russia and Iran. Erdogan suggested on Sunday that Turkey also had direct contacts with the Syrian government.
“Foreign policy with Syria continues at a lower level,” he told broadcaster TRT in an interview, adding that intelligence services operated differently to political leaders.
“Leaders may be cut out. But intelligence units can communicate for their interests,” Erdogan said. “Even if you have an enemy, you should not break the ties. You may need that later.”
The Turkish president also said that a proposed safe zone in northeastern Syria, which U.S. President Donald Trump has said should be established as U.S. forces withdraw from the area, could not be set up by Western coalition forces without Turkey.