Where does Turkey stand on Syria crisis now?
The chemical attack allegations on August 21 in rebel-hold districts of the Syrian capital Damascus, caught the Turkish government at a time when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had mobilized all his diplomatic and political capabilities to undo the coup in Egypt, especially following the killing of supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi on August 14.
His telephone calls to the prime minister of Malaysia and Emir of Qatar on Aug. 21 were more focused on Egypt than on Syria. So was the one with the prime minister of Pakistan on Aug. 22. Similarly, the telephone call arrangements with Italian, Dutch and Danish counterparts between Aug. 23 and 26 had been made earlier in the framework of Erdoğan’s Egypt diplomacy but the focus of those talks was more on Syria since the Aug. 21 attacks were now topping the world agenda. On Aug. 26, Turkey was hosting a meeting in Istanbul where the political issues were discussed among 11 representatives of the Friends of Syrian People group of countries and was taking part in another meeting in Amman where the military scenarios were discussed. During Erdoğan’s telephone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Aug. 27, only Syria was discussed, according to a Turkish PM Office source.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was more active on Syria. His original purpose for a Europe tour covering Germany, Britain and Italy on August 22-23 was Egypt, but he quickly shifted to Syria in his talks with counterparts. He had a telephone talk with US Secretary of State John Kerry on 22, too; he had at least three more with Kerry and one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before the 26th. Then he flew to Saudi Arabia, which Turkey criticized harshly because of supporting the coup which overthrew Morsi.
On his return on Aug. 28, there was this strong statement by NATO, holding Syria responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the attacks, saying that it should not go unanswered and vowing continued support for Turkey which shapes the Alliance’s southeast borders. Davutoğlu seemed satisfied with the NATO statement in the press conference upon his return to Ankara.
That is exactly in line with the outcome of the Istanbul meeting in which it was discussed that if this attack were to go unanswered, that could encourage the Bashar al-Assad regime for further similar attacks on the civilian population in the civil war going on for the last two strong years.
As a member of NATO, Turkey has told its allies that it was ready to contribute in all possible ways for a move to stop Assad from further bloodshed. A NATO decision will help the government to provide certain capabilities like partial use of the İncirlik, Konya and İzmir air bases, movement and flight rights without a new Parliamentary permission which would mean additional political difficulties for the Erdoğan government; intelligence sharing and coordination with the rebel groups are already taking place.
In political terms, Ankara is not a hundred percent happy with the US statement underlining that the aim of the operation was not removing Assad from office, but deterring him from further chemical attacks against his own people. But being a part of the diplomacy on the way to the second round of Geneva talks, Ankara also understands that all this flexing of muscle by the US and allies in the East Mediterranean is to make sure that Russia has limits in Syria and the Middle East.