Will Turkey revise its Syria policy?
The statements over the weekend of Lakhtar Brahimi, the new U.N. peace envoy to Syria, caused another round of disappointment in Ankara, following the U.N. Security Council session last week that produced nothing new. The Security Council disappointment was voiced by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at the time, while the second disappointment was written by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy advisor (and now his deputy undersecretary) İbrahim Kalın on Sunday, on his Twitter account.
Kalın wrote that Brahimi’s “First statements on the Syria crisis and his mission make me think that he won’t bring anything new to the table.”
Brahimi had said that al-Assad must “understand the urgent need for change” and deliver the “legitimate needs of the Syrian people.” Those words are less than what Kofi Annan, the previous envoy, had said before he left the job, and even less than the Socialist International’s recent denouncement of the al-Assad regime as “illegitimate” and in need of change.
Well, one can ask whether Brahimi, as an envoy also approved by Russia and China, can bring anything new to the Syrian crisis agenda, considering that those two countries oppose any U.N. move that may even slightly question the authority of Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Plus, nearly everyone is almost sure that the United States is not likely to get involved in any physical action regarding Syria, at least until the presidential elections in November. Mitt Romney, who is for involvement in both Syria and Iran, has started to pressure President Barack Obama, who is also under pressure from the Israeli lobby to not try to stop a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Is that a propaganda game to hang a sword of Damocles over the head of the Iranians? It could be. But it is not a game for countries in the region, including Turkey. For the last few days, Turkish papers have been reporting on Iranian agents caught by the Turkish authorities, especially in the Kurdish-populated eastern provinces. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç openly stated that intelligence services were looking into the role of Iranian and Syrian agents in the acts of terrorism that have taken place since the escalation of the civil war in Syria. That includes the attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which have claimed many lives. There was no confirmation about a meeting between David Petraeus, the head of the CIA, and Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT), in Istanbul on Sunday night, with the possibility that they would also meet with Davutoğlu at some stage.
By the way, Damascus was shaken by a new wave of attacks on Sunday, as the Turkish government began to show some indications that it would fine tune of its Syria policy. That would not amount to a revision regarding the refugees in the humanitarian context, but could be a revision of the support given to rebel groups. Upon complaints by the opposition and media reports, the government has decided to open up to parliamentary inspection a refugee camp in Hatay, by the Syrian border in which Syrian military defectors are being kept. The statement on the official website of the Free Syrian Army claiming Hatay as their headquarters, with a Turkish cellular number, has also been changed.
It is a fact that not only the international political atmosphere, but also the Turkish media and the opposition, is forcing the government to be more cautious on its Syria policy.