Turkey Says No Longer ‘Realistic’ To Exclude Assad From Syria Peace Deal

Turkey’s deputy prime minister said it is no longer “realistic” to insist on a solution to the Syrian conflict that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey, which is co-sponsoring Syrian peace talks with Russia that begin in Astana on January 23, has previously acknowledged that Assad remains an important actor in Syria.

But Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek’s remarks on January 20 were the first to express Ankara’s willingness to negotiate a peace deal that does not include his ouster.

“As far as our position on Assad is concerned, we think that the suffering of Syrian people and tragedies, clearly the blame is squarely on Assad. But we have to be pragmatic, realistic,” Simsek told the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

“The facts on the ground have changed dramatically, so Turkey can no longer insist on a settlement without Assad. It is not realistic,” he said in an apparent reference to Assad’s takeover of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, last month.

Turkey is the main backer of Sunni opposition forces which have battled Assad since the civil war started in 2011.

It was not clear whether Simsek’s remarks herald a new willingness by those rebel groups to also back off their longstanding insistence that Assad must go as part of any peace deal.

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