Obama’s Congress move for Syria dismays Ankara

Obama’s Congress move for Syria dismays Ankara

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Obama’s Congress move for Syria dismays Ankara

President Obama addresses his national security advisors in the Situation Room. AFP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to seek Congress’ authorization before launching a military response against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians could hinder Ankara’s plans to effect regime change in war-torn Syria through the world’s concerted military action.

Although Obama has said he is firm on the need for military action against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the proposed scope and objectives of a potential response have failed to satisfy Turkey.

“We can only respect the American president’s decision to seek approval from the Congress. But this brings a delay in a situation where even a minute, a day counts for the human life,” a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. “We hope that the deliberations in Congress will produce a positive result which will indicate that the international community will not remain indifferent to such crimes against humanity.”

Turkish government was yet to assess Obama’s decision before making an official evaluation on how Ankara regards the White House’s move.

However, initial evaluations point to two main issues regarding Obama’s statements Aug. 31. The first is that Obama showed that Washington was clear that the chemical weapons were deployed by Syrian government forces on Aug. 21 and that he was firm that the action should not go unpunished.

Obama’s firmness on attacking Syria regardless of the U.N. Security Council has been appreciated in Ankara.

Scope and objectives should be broadened

Ankara does also not believe that Obama would put himself in such a risky position if his earlier consultations with the majority leaders at the Congress had not been encouraging.

“He obviously wants to get into a more powerful position with the approval of Congress. In this case, the U.S. response will be more influential. But any parliamentary vote on the use of force is a risky one,” a source said, recalling how Turkey failed to give a green light to U.S. forces to use its soil in the Iraq War in 2003 even though the government at that time had a clear majority in Parliament.

But for Ankara, the scope and objectives outlined by the draft proposal sent to the Congress from the White House should be broadened.

The proposal states that the objective of a potential military action is to prevent or deter the use of proliferation of chemical or biological weapons within, to or from Syria, excluding the killings already allegedly committed by the al-Assad government.

“We are of the same opinion with the U.S. that the use of chemical weapons should be punished. But we can’t single out this chemical attack from the ongoing 2.5-year-old conflict. This chemical attack is the continuance of the brutal attacks of a desperate regime,” a source said.

Reference to the Geneva Process

“Therefore any response or military operation to be carried out should near the end game and a political solution in Syria. Without this objective, the al-Assad regime will never be convinced on the [need] for a political solution,” a source said.

However, the proposal reiterates Washington’s policy that the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement, calling on “all parties to the conflict in Syria to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva Process.”

Turkey long ago lost its hopes that the Washington-Moscow brokered Geneva Process could yield a political solution to the ongoing conflict. “Steps to be taken – militarily or politically – with regard to Syria should not bring further uncertainty and should not be in such a way that al-Assad can take advantage,” a source said.

As such Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated the need for the conditions of a coalition of the willing in his monthly address to the nation on Aug. 31, meaning Ankara sees a military operation as the only option that could bring an end to the ongoing bloodshed in its southern neighbor.

Close consultations to continue

One concern of Ankara is that Obama’s decision to bring the issue before Congress could have a demoralizing effect on the Syrian opposition.

“Al-Assad has already used Obama’s decision as part of his propaganda. Turkey, the U.S. and other powers should continue to give strong support to them. We will be in close dialogue with the U.S. in the coming days in this regard,” a source said.

The Syrian opposition urged yesterday the U.S. Congress to approve military action against President Bashar al-Assad, saying the legislators must make it clear that the use of chemical weapons will be punished wherever that occurs. Separately, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said France would not act alone in Syria but would await a decision by the U.S. Congress on whether to launch an attack against al-Assad. “France cannot go it alone,” Valls told Europe 1 radio. “We need a coalition.”

Apart from possible phone conversations between the two countries’ foreign ministers, there is a tiny chance that Erdoğan and Obama could meet in St. Petersburg amid an upcoming G-20 meeting, although there is no confirmation on a pre-scheduled rendezvous in the Russian city.