Syria diplomacy gains momentum after Vienna talks

Syria diplomacy gains momentum after Vienna talks

Amid news reports that the international coalition is preparing to launch an intensified aerial campaign on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) positions in Jarablus and Raqqa in Syria after this weekend’s G-20 Summit, speculation about a potential ground operation into Syria by the Turkish military seemingly returned over the last week. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement that there were “positive developments” regarding a ground operation into Syria encouraged a number of pro-government newspapers in Turkey, who made extensive coverage full of details of this incursion. 

Some news reports suggested that the army had deployed around 20,000 troops on the Syrian border ahead of a cross-border operation into Syria to establish an area cleared of ISIL, between the Mare-Jarablus line, in order to shelter Syrian refugees.

Hopefully, these speculations were nixed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Nov. 13, when he denied reports that Turkey was preparing to launch a cross-border military operation into its southern neighbor. 

Equally important as the content was the timing of Davutoğlu’s statement. This negation from Ankara came as Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu was in Vienna to hold the first bilateral talks with key countries in the Syria talks, and to attend the third “Vienna process” talks.    

Sinirlioğlu separately met U.S. Secretary General John Kerry and U.N. Special Envoy on the crisis Staffan de Mistura, ahead of a joint meeting with the U.S., Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey late on Nov. 13. More importantly, he will take his seat around the same table with international partners in Vienna to discuss how to end violence and how to begin a political transition in the country. 

A day after the Vienna talks, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will hold bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, before all G-20 leaders convene at a working dinner on the same day, where the main issue will be Syria and the refugee crisis. Erdoğan and Obama will likely discuss the situation in depth, with the former seeking Washington’s agreement on Turkey’s plans to create a safe zone and a no-fly zone inside Syria. 

The importance of the G-20 Summit as the venue where the Syrian issue will be discussed in depth depends very much on the success of Vienna talks on Saturday. Turkish diplomatic sources do not express much hope for an immediate breakthrough in Vienna, though they try to draw attention to the fact that more countries are warming up to the idea of establishing a secure zone inside Syria. 

There is no doubt that Turkey will use the G-20 as a platform to win more allies for its own priorities, in line with its expectations that the Vienna talks will not yield results this weekend. 

However, it is very important for Turkey to try to use its leverage on the Syrian opposition - and to convince the Russians to do the same on Bashar al-Assad - to secure an understanding for a “transition period” in Syria. More military involvement and military operations only deepen the circle of violence in Syria, making finding a way out more difficult than ever.