Efforts to normalize relations between Syria and Turkey are moving forward, with Iran set to join Russia in the talks between Ankara and Damascus.

“Russia can see the sense in involving Iran in further meetings on the Turkey-Syria settlement,” said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a Tuesday press conference following a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. 

According to Russian news agency Tass, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously approved Tehran’s joining the talks and Lavrov said the parties have reached a relevant agreement.

According to a source of pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Turkey originally did not agree to including Iran in the talks, while Iran “had expressed reservations over its previous exclusion by Russia and Türkiye from the process.”

According to the source, Iran told Russia it needed to be included in the Turkey-Syria normalization efforts.

At the press conference, Lavrov said Russia backs Turkey’s efforts to normalize ties with Syria and vows to help work towards that goal.

“Russia, Iran and Turkey are members of the ‘Astana troika,’ which has been handling the Syrian settlement. Therefore, I consider it absolutely logical that any further communication on bringing relations between Turkey and Syria back to normal will also involve Russia and Iran,” Lavrov said. 

“As for the timeframes and specific formats of participation, be it at the military, diplomatic or any other level, they are currently being specified. We have a full understanding that it is necessary to move step by step, so that every step forward should yield specific, albeit minor, results,” he added.

On Monday, Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held talks with his Syrian counterpart, Ayman Sosan, in which he expressed Russia’s eagerness “to help in normalizing ties between Damascus and Ankara based on the principles of respecting Syria’s sovereignty,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. 

Bogdanov and Sosan also discussed bolstering the “traditional friendly relations between Russia and Syria.”

According to Tass, referencing a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the defense ministers from Russia, Syria and Turkey held trilateral talks in late December. 

During the talks, they focused on “solutions to the Syrian crisis, the refugee issue and joint efforts to battle extremist groups on Syrian territory. The Russian Defense Ministry pointed out that following the meeting, the sides pointed to the constructive nature of the dialogue in this format and the need to keep at it in order to stabilize the situation in the Arab republic as well as in the region. Syria’s top brass described the meeting as positive.”

The prospects of normalization between Turkey and Syria is causing much alarm among the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey that they will be sent back to Syria, where they could face arrest, torture and death.

“This worries all Syrian refugees in Turkey, especially those opposed to the Syrian regime and those wanted by the security forces,” Orwa Khalifa, a Syrian opposition journalist in Turkey, said last month. 

“The fear of handing them over to the Syrian regime is increasing day by day. If I am deported to Syria, regardless of the area, whether it is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra [al Qaeda in the Levant] or the factions affiliated with Turkey or the Syrian regime, I will be killed,” Khalifa said.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Turks – more than 60% – want the Syrian refugees to leave Turkey. A similar percentage is also in favor of Turkish reconciliation with Syria’s Assad regime.

Erdoğan’s political opposition says if it wins Turkey’s general elections in June, it will expel all Syrian refugees by 2025.

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