The Paris chance for Turkey’s Syria policy revision

The Paris chance for Turkey’s Syria policy revision

U.S .Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to brief his allies in the Syria conflict on Sept. 16 in Paris on the agreement he reached with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sept. 14 over the handover and control of the chemical weapons.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is invited by Kerry to the Paris conference along with his French, British and Saudi colleagues. Kerry already informed Israel about the plan yesterday.

Davutoğlu goes to Paris with mainly three messages, as could be read from Serkan Demirtaş story in today’s edition of the Hürriyet Daily News. In the first message Turkey welcomes the chemical agreement with the remark that it should not be considered as the final target which should be a lasting end to the Syrian civil war. The second one suggests it should not let Bashar al-Assad buy time for his ongoing campaign. And the third suggests that al-Assad would not keep his promises (as could be read from his recent Rossiya TV interview) there should be a “Plan B” to impose measures on him and his regime.

All of those suggestions represent a moderation of the attitude of the Turkish government which keeps saying from day one that there is no solution to the Syrian problem other than Assad leaving office.
This doesn’t mean that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his foreign policy team have changed their minds; they still believe that unless Assad is removed from office, peace cannot prevail in Syria. But it is obvious that the “first remove Assad” line is not the line of the international community right now; especially not with the Kerry-Lavrov agreement. Insisting on that line without a compromise to the agreement, could have led Turkey into a less than secondary position in the Syrian conflict which is more clearly seen now as a proxy struggle between the U.S. and Russia; the first being so following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

In addition to that diplomatic scene, there are some recent developments along the 910 km border which started to alienate the Turkish people from the Syria policy of the government. Turkish people had no problem with sheltering refugees who escape from the civil war as a humanitarian responsibility. But when it comes to giving support to the opposition forces things are getting sour. The acts of terrorism along the border are seen as an infection from then Syrian civil war; the Reyhanlı attack where 53 people were killed has been an eye-opener for many. The footages showing torture, executions without trial and other kind of violence performed by Al-Qaeda linked fundamentalist groups like al-Nusra further weakened the image of the Syrian opposition in the eyes of Turkish people and ended up with a condemnation by Davutoğlu over the weekend. There is also an important Kurdish aspect of the problem which Erdoğan is getting ready to announce a “democratization plan” nowadays.

The Paris meeting could actually serve the Turkish government as a chance to revise its Syria policy and try to open a new page. Full support given to the highly fragmented and heterogeneous Syrian opposition is getting more risky for Turkish foreign policy, thus for Turkey's security and economic interests in the region. It is up to Davutoğlu to use this chance well.