Turkey agrees to conditional transition with Assad

Turkey agrees to conditional transition with Assad

The Turkish government has agreed on a Syrian formula which includes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the condition that it will end with him stepping down, according to a Turkish source.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the decision was made together with a group of nine countries, including the U.S., during the United Nations General Assembly sessions in late September.

The formula suggested a six-month transition period during which al-Assad would remain a “symbolic president” of the “transition administration” with no authority on the military or intelligence apparatus and that he would leave power at the end of it.

The formula was forwarded to Russia by the Americans but no confirmation has been received from the Russians yet.

This is a clear change in Turkish policy regarding Syria. Turkey has been a staunch opponent of any transition including al-Assad so far, since the beginning of the civil war in 2011.

The source said the Turkish government still considered al-Assad the cause of the civil war and instability in the region, but with this move it demonstrated its will to find a solution in Syria as soon as possible without al-Assad.

Despite no response to the suggestion from Moscow yet, Russia has made a major move to endorse the power of al-Assad by escalating its military presence there. Relations between Russia and Turkey were strained when a Russian jet based in Syria violated Turkish air space earlier this month, which was followed by plane and radar lock-ups. The Turkish government also accused Russia of hitting Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces against al-Assad, instead of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which Moscow gave as the justification for its presence in Syria.

Turkey sees the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign against Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed since 1984. Russia sees the PYD as the only legitimate land force fighting ISIL in the Syrian theater and Turkey considers it as another terrorist organization like ISIL or al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Turkey has a PYD problem with the U.S. as well. The U.S. supports the FSA as the legitimate rebel force against al-Assad, but also cooperates with the PYD against ISIL. The Turkish government, which opened up its strategic İncirlik air base for raids against ISIL, was upset by a recent American air supply drop to the PYD and warned the U.S. that if the PYD or the PKK used any of those weapons against Turkey, that would make the PYD a target.

Russia, having its only military base in the entire Middle East and the Mediterranean in Syria, on the other hand, is cooperating with Iran in the Syrian theater. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah militia from Lebanon are fighting al-Assad ranks against the FSA under the command of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

It is not clear what Russia will say to a transition with al-Assad with symbolic powers and a guarantee that he will not remain in power at the end of it. It is not likely to come to a settlement point soon soon, since Russia believes it should be the Syrian people to decide on that, without admitting that millions of Syrians who have saved their lives from the civil war have already made that decision by fleeing the country under al-Assad.