Russian and Turkish FMs hold first meeting since ties repaired

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured) met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on July 1, 2016.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured) met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on July 1, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday (July 1) for the first time since Moscow and Ankara mended ties shattered last year by the downing of a Russian jet.

Lavrov said both sides wanted to "set the right tone for the normalisation of relations" at the meeting on the sidelines of a regional economic cooperation conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"We can talk with Russia on every issue, positive or negative, because the dialogue that had been cut has restarted and our relations have begun returning to old days," Cavusoglu said after the meeting, in comments aired on Turkish television.

The encounter comes after Moscow on Thursday ended a ban on the sale of package tours to Turkey in the first step to ending broader sanctions slapped on Ankara after it shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Turkish-Syria border in November.

The diplomatic breakthrough was made on Wednesday in the first phone call since the incident between presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Turkish strongman sent a letter that Moscow said contained an apology.

Cavusoglu said Erdogan could fly to Sochi in August for a face-to-face meeting with Putin.

The jet downing slammed the brakes on burgeoning relations between the two nations and sparked a bitter war of words between the two leaders.

Turkey argued that the Russian plane strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Russia insisted it did not cross the border and accused Turkey of a "planned provocation".

The two sides still remain on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, with Ankara backing rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad who has the backing of Moscow.

Lavrov said after the meeting that they had agreed to restart a "working group on fighting terrorism" and that contacts between the armed forces from the two sides could improve.

"I think that contacts will develop along other channels, including between the militaries of the two countries, taking into account the activities of our air force." He said the two sides could discuss "even the most difficult issues", including the "the task of not allowing Turkish territory to support terrorist organisations in Syria".

During the diplomatic spat Putin accused Erdogan of profiting from the illegal oil trade with the Islamic State group in Syria.

The meeting in Sochi came after at least 44 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul's international airport on Tuesday, with the government pointing the finger of blame at IS jihadists.

The crisis in relations with Moscow had dealt a blow to Turkish tourism, with the number of Russian tourists drastically declining in holiday resorts along the Mediterranean coast.