Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday that his country aims to develop “good relations” with Syria and Iraq.
Yildirim’s speech, broadcast live on television, suggests a U-turn by the Turkish government. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria were severed following the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Turkey has long opposed Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad and has previously said that Syria could only know stability if Assad leaves.
Yildirim stated that the stability of Iraq and Syria were compulsory for counter-terrorism to succeed.
Turkey’s new initiative comes at a time of great political instability in the country, said the BBC’s Katy Watson in Istanbul.
Turkey has suffered from a number of suicide bombings from both ISIS and Kurdish militants, some of which has targeted foreign tourists.
The country is also hosting approximately 2.7 million Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn homeland. About 10% live in over 20 refugee camps across Turkey. The rest live impoverished in cities.
Yildirim has repeatedly said that his country needs to “increase its friends and decrease its enemies” – an implicit admission that its opposition to Assad has sidelined Turkey.
“It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: Developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbors that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea,” Yildirim said.
“We normalized relations with Russia and Israel. I’m sure we will normalize relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq,” he added.
Last month, Turkey announced that its diplomatic ties with Israel (which have been severed for six years) have been restored. It also sought to fix alliances with Russia, apologizing for gunning down a warplane.
“There is currently no change in Turkey’s Syria policy. Turkey does not want to have problems with any countries in the region and emphasizes the importance of ending terrorism as well as engaging in close cooperation for regional stability,” an official told Reuters after Yildirim’s comments.
“Of course Turkey wants to normalize ties with Syria, but there is no change in Turkey’s policy regarding Syria with Assad.”