More than five years into Syria’s civil war, Turkey, the country that has most helped the rebellion against the rule of Bashar al-Assad, has hinted it may move to normalise relations with Damascus.
The suggestion made by the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, on Wednesday, stunned the Syrian opposition leadership, which Ankara hosts, as well as regional leaders, who had allied with Turkey in their push to oust Assad over a long, unforgiving war.
“I am sure that we will return [our] ties with Syria to normal,” he said, straying far from an official script that has persistently called for immediate regime change. “We need it. We normalised our relations with Israel and Russia. I’m sure we will go back to normal relations with Syria as well.”
Though Turkish officials later claimed the remarks were made in hope, and did not imply a policy shift, both the Ankara-backed rebels and regional diplomats inferred that Turkey was softening its rhetoric in advance of a reset with Assad, whose allies have backed him into a winning position in the war.
“We did not see this coming, said one official. “It is not consistent with what they have been saying privately.”