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Jul 13, 5:45 AM EDT

Turkey hints at normalization of ties with Syria

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ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkey's prime minister suggested on Wednesday his country wants to normalize ties with Syria in what would mark an about-turn in policy amid a broad diplomatic offensive.

Binali Yildirim said in a televised address Wednesday that Turkey is expanding its circle of friends, adding: "I am sure that we will return (our) ties with Syria to normal. We need it."

The statement follows the restoration of diplomatic ties with Russia and Israel. Ankara cut ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad after a popular uprising erupted in 2011.

The Turkish government has consistently cast the departure of Assad, who enjoys the backing of Iran and Russia, as necessary for a successful political resolution to the conflict in Syria.

Turkey, which borders Syria, is now is home 2.75 million Syrian refugees. It has served as a base to political representatives of the Syrian opposition and various rebel groups seeking to unseat Assad.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the path to Turkish citizenship would be open to Syrians who meet several criteria including having no links to terror groups.

Turkey's war on terrorism is primarily focused on Kurdish militants - which Ankara considers a threat in both the Syrian and Turkish context - as well as the Islamic State group.

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