ANKARA: Turkey does not have preconditions for dialogue with the Syrian government and talks should be goal-oriented, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday in a further softening of Ankara’s stance toward Damascus.

Turkey has backed rebels fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and cut diplomatic relations with Damascus early in the 11-year conflict.

But Russian intervention has helped Assad’s government drive the rebels back to a pocket of northwest Syria. Erdogan said after talks in Russia earlier this month that President Vladimir Putin had suggested Turkey cooperate with the Syrian government to tackle violence along their joint border.

Erdogan has warned that Turkey could launch another military incursion into northern Syria targeting Syria Kurdish fighters, to extend a ‘safe zone’ where Ankara says some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees which it currently hosts could return.

“There cannot be a condition for dialogue but what are the aim of these contacts? The country needs to cleared of terrorists… People need to be able to return,” Cavusoglu said.

“No conditions for dialogue but what is the aim, the target? It needs to be goal-oriented,” he said.

Asked last week about potential talks with Damascus, Erdogan was quoted as saying diplomacy between states can never be fully severed. There is a “need to take further steps with Syria,” Erdogan said according to a transcript of his comments to Turkish media.