Key foreign policy messages by Turkey’s Erdoğan
In a televised interview with the private broadcaster CNN Türk over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered important and substantive messages on main foreign and security policy issues, including the state of bilateral relationship with the United States and ongoing processes in Syria.
President Erdoğan had a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on late Feb. 21, just hours before the White House announced that 200 American troops will stay in the Syrian territories under a peacekeeping mission, in a change of Trump’s complete withdrawal decision.
It’s believed that the American forces along with other coalition partners are to be stationed in the security zone to be set up in the northeastern Syria to both address Turkey’s security concerns and to provide protection for the YPG, a group Ankara considers as terrorist because of its links with the PKK.
Without mentioning about the change in the U.S. plans, Erdoğan reiterated a well-known Turkish approach vis a vis the security zone, saying “It will be unacceptable for us if the security zone would be shaped in a way that contradicts with our own strategic understanding. If there will be a security zone on my border, it has to be under our control.”
Talks between Turkey and the U.S. will sure continue as Erdoğan said he received an invitation by Trump for a visit to Washington D.C., something he can realize in the aftermath of March 31 local elections.
Despite many problems, Erdoğan underlined positive communication with President Trump with a special emphasis on both men’s willingness to boost bilateral trade.
Erdoğan’s messages on the ongoing conflict in Syria were also important. One of the most frequent questions recently being posed is whether Turkey would establish direct or indirect contact with the Assad regime for the continued fight against terror. Citing the 1998-dated Adana Protocol, Erdoğan said Turkey has all the right to fight against terror inside Syria and therefore has no need to approach Damascus.
‘Three-way alliance to continue’
“We will not pledge a legitimacy that Assad does not deserve,” Erdoğan said in a fashion that could perfectly interpreted that Beshar al-Assad should take steps to win legitimacy.
Developments in Idlib, a Syrian province under the control of the radical jihadist groups led by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, have vital importance as any action could trigger new refugee influx, Erdoğan characterized. Turkey, Russia and Iran are seriously and sincerely working for the implementation of a ceasefire that must see the complete disarmament and departure of jihadist groups from the region, the president said, repeating Turkey’s intelligence agency’s efforts to this end. He was not very open on whether a joint military strike with Russia could take place in the future.
Still, he expressed his confidence that cooperation between Turkey, Russia and Iran will not be broken over differing stances with regard to how the problem in Idlib needs to be resolved.
Erdoğan disseminated optimism for the creation of a constitutional committee tasked to write Syria’s new charter as parties are now discussing over the last three names to establish the committee. He also announced Turkey’s readiness to lend assistance in writing a constitution, as a country that has vast experience on it.
Europe is in a big crisis
Erdoğan’s statements on ties with the European Union were striking. Describing the state of current affairs in the European Union as a big crisis, citing Brexit, unending yellow vest protests in France and etc. “EU cannot even help Europe,” he said, using his well-known motto of “The World is bigger than five” to the continental politics as he said “Europe is bigger than the EU.”
The EU will never allow Turkey inside because of its religion and big population, Erdoğan said, recalling his earlier suggestion of holding referendum on whether Turkey should continue full membership talks or nor. “We should obviously have Plan B, Plan C,” he stated.
This characterization by Erdoğan does not promise much for a substantial return to the democratization process.
It does not project major structural change on the nature of Turkey-EU ties in the coming period.
Khashoggi tension with Saudi endures
On questions over the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s general-consulate in Istanbul by a death squad deployed by senior Saudi officials, Erdogan slammed the Riyadh administration for not cooperating in investigating the incident.
Erdogan did also criticize Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this end for his efforts to silence international community by granting lucrative deals, including oil.
Erdogan sounded that a long-term tension with Saudi Arabia is looming.
A similar tone of his was observed when he spoke about Egypt’s President Sisi who came to power in mid-2013 after a military coup against Mohamed Morsi.
“I will never meet Sisi,” he said, describing a recent judicial decision of the execution of nine dissidents as a crime against humanity.