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Erdogan says no contact with Assad government 'at the moment'

Putin met Assad this week in Sochi before a summit with Erdogan and Iran's Rouhani aimed at finding a political solution to the Syria conflict

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was no contact "at the moment" between Ankara and the Syrian government despite both sides' opposition to Syrian Kurdish militia, in comments reported on Friday.

The Turkish leader said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad "negatively" viewed Syrian Kurdish armed groups, in an interview published in Hurriyet and Milliyet papers.

Putin met Assad earlier this week at the Black Sea resort of Sochi before a summit with Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday aimed at finding a political settlement to the Syria conflict.

Ankara has opposed Assad throughout the conflict and previously accused the Syrian leader of war crimes.

But Moscow and Iran have provided military support to help forces loyal to Assad reclaim territory in the conflict, which has raged since 2011.

Putin announced on Wednesday plans for a congress - agreed at Sochi - to bring together the different sides in an attempt to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.

Erdogan said the Russian leader told him that Assad did not want the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing fighting in Syria, the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), to take part in peace talks.

The YPG - which the US sees as the most effective force on the ground against the Islamic State group - controls a large part of northern Syria.

Turkey views the PYD/YPG as "terror" groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

Erdogan has repeatedly vowed not to allow the YPG to form a "terror corridor" on its southern border.

When asked whether Turkey has initiated contact with Assad, even via mediators, Erdogan replied: "There is no such situation at the moment."

The Turkish leader told reporters on his return from Sochi that Turkey was focused on removing terror organisations when questioned about whether there was a possibility of close contact with Damascus in the future.

"What will happen tomorrow is relevant to the circumstances then," he added, leaving the door open to future talks.

But he said it would not be right to take a "no way at all" approach to the issue.

"The doors of politics, as you are aware, are always open until the last moment," Erdogan added.

 

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he will be speaking with Erdogan later on Friday to discuss peace efforts in the Middle East.

“Will be speaking to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey this morning about bringing peace to the mess I inherited in the Middle East,” he said in a post on Twitter.

No other details were given about the call.

Turkey has been angered by US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the indictment of a Turkish former economy minister over alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Washington has complained about the detention of two locally employed staff at U.S. consulates in Turkey.