Defected Syrian general Manaf Tlass met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo on Thursday after visiting Saudi Arabia, where he said he was working on a plan to end the Syrian conflict.
Turkey, once a close political ally of Syria, has denounced the violence meted out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and is sheltering some 44,000 Syrian refugees.
The Turkish foreign ministry said it would not release any information on Thursday’s meeting, which came the same day as Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat published an interview with Tlass, who said he was working on a plan to end the conflict, save Syria from sectarianism and rebuild the country without Assad playing a role.
The roadmap would involve “honourable” Syrians, including members of the present regime whose hands are “not stained with blood”, Tlass said.
“I’m trying as much as I can to unite honourable Syrians inside and outside the country to create a roadmap that could end Syria’s crisis,” Tlass told the paper during his visit to Saudi Arabia.
“I will contact all honourable people willing to build Syria, whether they were from the (opposition) Syrian National Council, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, and honourable people even if they were from within the regime,” he said.
Tlass, whose July 6 defection was hailed in the West as a key setback for Assad, stressed that regime members whose “hands are not stained with blood must not be uprooted”.
“We must preserve the state,” he said, but added: “I do not see Syria with Bashar al-Assad” playing a role.
The general who was a childhood friend of Assad’s said the president would have remained in power if “he had not taken this security path … but security forces disrupted his views”.
Tlass said he had no intention of leading Syria during a period of transition which, according to him, must be done by a team comprising Syrians from inside and outside the country.
A general in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime, Tlass is the son of former defence minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.
His defection was welcomed by the opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council as an “enormous blow” to Assad.
But Tlass has faced criticism from Syrian rebels, who say he and his 80-year-old father, who lives in Paris, should have made their positions clear at the very start of the anti-Assad uprising in March last year.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 19,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in violence unleashed by Assad’s forces in its attempt to crush the uprising.