Erdogan to invite Assad for talks to restore Turkey-Syria ties

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attend a press conference in Ankara

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will extend an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "any time" for possible talks to restore relations between the two neighbours, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

"We will extend our invitation (to Assad); with this invitation, we want to restore Turkey-Syria relations to the same level as in the past. Our invitation may be extended at any time," Erdogan said, according to a presidency readout of an interview by Turkish media.

Turkey severed ties with Syria in 2011 after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, in which it supported rebels looking to oust Assad.

It has carried out several cross-border military operations against militants it says threaten its national security, and formed a "safe zone" in northern Syria where Turkish troops are now stationed.

Speaking to reporters on his flight back from Berlin, Erdogan also said Ankara would reciprocate any positive steps from Damascus, and that Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Iraqi Prime Minister could contribute to facilitating the contact.

"We have now arrived at a point where if Bashar Assad takes a step towards improving relations with Turkey, we will also show that approach towards him," Erdogan said.

"Putin and the Iraqi prime minister have an approach for talks to be in Turkey. We are talking about mediation everywhere, why not with our neighbour?" he was quoted as saying by the Turkish presidency.

Erdogan in June did not rule out a possible meeting with Assad to revive relations.

Syrian officials however have repeatedly said that any normalization in ties can only come after Turkey agrees to pull out thousands of troops from the rebel-held northwest.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jan Harvey)