US converges with Russia on Syria
According to a Turkish scholar, Russia has been trying to stop the Arab Spring in order to avoid a future “Russian Spring,” and it may well be succeeding in this target in Syria. You can read the analysis of Mithat Çelikpala, a professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, in his interview with the Hürriyet Daily News’ Barçın Yinanç in today’s edition.
The results of the Istanbul meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People (FSP) on April 20 may endorse what Celikpala says. Following extended hours of talks – an indication that they were difficult - Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) did not even pretend he was satisfied, even when admitting that they would be getting more support from the West. He resigned later on.
Even when pronouncing a target of $1 billion in aid to the Syrian opposition, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry knew he had fallen short of the expectations of the Syrian opposition, which wants the Bashar al-Assad regime to go.
Getting rid of al-Assad used to be Ankara’s prime target, as Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has repeatedly said. It was simply a case of “saving face” for Davutoğlu to be able to say that “11 countries are able to say the same thing on Syria, for the first time,” implying the members of the “Core Group” of the Friends of the Syrian People. The Istanbul meeting did not state that al-Assad leaving power was a “must.” On the contrary, the Geneva accord was underlined, with a small but important note by Kerry that the conflict could come to an end if al-Assad wanted it to. It is interesting to recall that apart from that small note, this is what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said on April 16 after meeting with Davutoğlu in Istanbul.
There is a reason for this. Kerry did not give the name of any organizations, deciding rather to stick with the term “extremism,” but this reason is al-Nusra. Following the declaration by its leader Mohammad al-Golani last week that al-Nusra is actually operating as al-Qaeda in Syria, it is difficult to accept them as simple freedom fighters. This has changed many parameters in the Syria equation, including the Turkish stance. Kerry said in his press conference that “extremism in Syria” is a threat to region, a threat to Turkey, and a threat to Israel.
The new equation represents an opportunity for Turkey to fine tune its Syria policy, which has been much criticized by the Turkish opposition. This criticism is not because of the humanitarian involvement, but rather because of there being “too much” political involvement with the armed groups fighting against al-Assad. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has already announced that it has no remaining links with al-Nusra.
Russia’s position, which has been warning about the “extremists” from day one, was strengthened with the Friends of the Syrian People’s Istanbul meeting. It is even possible to say that the U.S.
position has converged somewhat with Russia’s, regarding the Geneva accord. Will that lead to a Russian convergence with the Americans’ position, which still supports a smooth transition from the current Damascus regime to a new one more acceptable for the Syrian people and the neighborhood?
Not in the near future, unless a miracle happens like Moscow personally convincing al-Assad to retire.