Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said today that he was open to a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but said that making the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syrian territory a condition for talks was “unacceptable”.

Turkey is the biggest military and political ally of the Syrian opposition, which controls the rebels’ last stronghold in northwestern Syria. Ankara has set up dozens of bases and deployed thousands of troops in northern Syria, preventing the Russian-backed Syrian army from retaking the region.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul before departing for a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Erdogan said Turkey had “never closed the door” on talks with the Syrian government.

“We can hold a quadrilateral summit (with Syria, Russia and Iran) and I am also open to a meeting with Assad. What matters here is their approach to us,” Erdogan said.

Damascus’ condition for the complete withdrawal of Turkish forces in order for such a meeting to take place is “unacceptable”, he added.

Erdogan first said earlier this year he might meet with Syrian President Assad as part of a new peace process, but Assad said in March there was no reason to meet with Erdogan until Turkey’s “illegal occupation” ends. .

“We are fighting against terrorism here. How can we withdraw when our country is under constant threat from terrorists on our borders… We expect a fair approach,” Erdogan said.

The two countries’ defense ministers met late last year at the highest level of talks between the two neighbors, whose governments have been at odds since 2011, when the Arab Spring uprisings reached Syria and plunged the country into war.

The two countries’ foreign ministers also met in Moscow in May ahead of the Turkish election as part of talks overseen by Russia.