Ankara eyes US elections for Syria policy shift

Ankara eyes US elections for Syria policy shift

Ankara eyes US elections for Syria policy shift

A Syrian dad who fled his home in Marea holds his sleeping, fever-ridden son as they wait at the border for a chance to enter one of the refugee camps in Turkey. AP photo

David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to Istanbul on the evening of Sept. 2, causing a wave of excitement - as if Turkey needs more - and a series of speculations. According to those speculations, Petraeus was going to meet Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Istanbul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, and he had actually been invited to Turkey by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to have consultations on a serious matter.

After making a number of phone calls, it was possible to talk to a high rank Turkish official to get some information about this visit, which was to be kept secret because of its nature: No, there was no specific invitation for this visit to be given by the Turkish government, and there have been “routine” talks on Syria between the CIA and MİT since March 2012, where Syria was top of the agenda. No, Petraeus did not meet with Erdoğan or Davutoğlu; he only met with the head of MİT Hakan Fidan and his team. No, he did not go to Ankara, and in fact he had left Istanbul by midday Sept. 3.

But yes, Syria was the top issue on the agenda of the two intelligence services. To be more specific, “transition in Syria” was the topic.

The Turkish government does not hide its disappointment at the U.N. and its NATO allies because of their falling short of its national needs regarding the Syria crisis. “Our Syria policy” one policy maker explained on the phone yesterday, “is not dictated by politics, it is dictated by geography and history. We have difficulties in explaining to our partners that sharing a border of 910 km with a country in the middle of a civil war requires international effort and solidarity.”

Turkish efforts to convince its allies are continuing, particularly with the U.S., despite the discouraging signals coming from Washington. For months, American officials have been saying that they would like to stay out of any military engagement, either in Syria or in the Iran-Israel antagonism, at least until the presidential elections in November. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone has even openly said that no change is likely in American policy, even after the elections.

However, Turkish officials are pretty sure that the U.S. stance on Syria will change after the elections. Referring to a denial by a U.S. embassy spokesman of the “utterly fabricated” reports about a statement by U.S. Chief of Joint Staff General Martin Dempsey (who said that military - preferably NATO - coverage might be necessary for establishment of a buffer zone within Syria, but misquoted in some Turkish press as not being NATO’s business), a ranking government official said the following: “Whether Barack Obama will stay as president or Mitt Romney replaces him, we believe that U.S. policy on Syria will shift into a more active one after the election.”

Then we can ask questions about the issues Petraeus and Fidan discussed on the “transition” in Syria from the Bashar al-Assad regime to a new one, with the concrete fact of increased terrorist attacks in Turkey and the allegedly increased activities of Syrian and Iranian intelligence services in and around Turkey, among others. Perhaps we will see the outcomes and consequences of these before being able to learn the details.