Turkey unsure if Assad to be part of Syria political transition

Putin welcoming Assad

ISTANBUL - It's too early to decide whether a political transition in Syria for ending its civil war will include President Bashar al-Assad, a Turkish official said Thursday, emphasising the Syrian leader should have no long-term political future.
Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has opposed Assad throughout the conflict, backing the opposition seeking to oust him and accusing the Syrian leader of war crimes.
But Ankara is now a key player in efforts to end the war along with Russia and Iran, even though Moscow and Tehran have been Assad's main allies and helped tipped the conflict in his favour.
Mahir Unal, spokesman of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told foreign reporters at a briefing that the issue of Assad was still a red line for Turkey.
But he added: "The process will show whether there will be a transition with Assad, or without Assad, and the negotiations will make this clear."
But he added that "Assad cannot continue to be a political actor who remains" on the scene after a transition.
Unal was speaking a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Erdogan in Sochi for their first ever three way summit on the Syrian crisis.
The Sochi summit agreed on holding a congress of Syrian national dialogue to seek a political solution.
A further possible stumbling block could be the role in the congress of Syrian Kurdish militia who control much of northern Syria but are seen as a terror group by Turkey.
Unal said that Turkey's two other "red lines" for Syria were the preservation of its territorial integrity and not having the Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- the political wing of the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia -- involved in peace talks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Thursday acknowledged Turkey's reservations but said this would not stand in the way of the congress.