ANKARA (Reuters)–Visiting Syrian Irrigation Minister Taha al-Atrash urged Turkey on Thursday to join water sharing talks with his country and Iraq – an issue that has long troubled ties between the two Arab states and Ankara.
Baghdad and Damascus depend largely on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers–which both originate in Turkey–for their drinking water and irrigation.
The Euphrates winds through Syria before entering Iraq–while the Tigris flows straight to Iraq from Turkey – who Iraq and Syria have long accused of not letting enough water through to their countries.
"We conveyed our views to the minister regarding the restoration of a technical committee between (the three countries)," al-Atrash told reporters in Ankara–referring to his meeting with Energy Minister Zeki Cakan.
Mustafa Yilmaz–the minister overseeing Turkey’s southeastern irrigation and dam project GAP–said before meeting the Syrian minister that Ankara would act in line with the views of its Foreign Ministry.
Turkish officials say Ankara is not warm towards the idea of joining three-party water talks until a long-standing territorial dispute with Syria over the Turkish province of Hatay–to which Damascus retains a territorial claim–is resolved.
Iraq and Syria agreed a water-sharing plan in January and called on Turkey to join them in a three-way agreement.
Iraqi protests have grown since 1996 when Turkey announced plans to build a fourth dam on the Euphrates.
Ankara and Damascus signed a provisional agreement in 1987 under which Turkey allows the flow of 500 cubic meters per second to Syria. The Syrian government has called for a permanent accord.
Relations between Turkey and Syria–long strained–have improved in the past two years since Damascus expelled Turkish Kurd rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan–who had directed his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters from Syrian soil for years.