Turkey mulls balancing Syria policy after US talks

Turkey mulls balancing Syria policy after US talks

It’s no secret that the deterioration in Turkey’s ties with the United States and other allies over the recent years has resulted in further convergence between Ankara and Moscow, especially in the Syrian theater.

The Pastor Brunson crisis, the Halkbank case, U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s purchase and deployment of S-400 missile systems from Russia and the U.S. massive support to the YPG in Syria could be cited as immediate contentious issues that cooled off the relationships between the two NATO allies.

This environment has led to a deep mistrust in the eyes of the Turkish public opinion, boosting anti-American feeling across the country.

For many, the ongoing tension between Turkey and Russia over Idlib would pave the way for a normalized relationship between Turkey and the U.S., and in general context with its NATO partners.

Some pundits are of the opinion that it would be time for Turkey to re-calibrate its foreign policy in a way to turn its face to the West by ending its cooperation with Russia.

What prompted this sort of opinion was last week’s intense diplomatic engagement from the U.S. towards Turkey that brought about strong messages of solidarity and of partnership in the context of recent developments in Idlib.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke on the phone with U.S. President Donald Trump only days after James Jeffrey, the State Department’s Special Representative for Syria, and Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary at U.S. Department of State, paid visits to Turkey.

Jeffrey preferred to speak in Turkish while offering condolences to the Turkish people over the fallen soldiers in Idlib and expressed his administration’s full support to the Turkish military moves in the Syrian enclave.

In an interview with the NTV, Jeffrey cited important points concerning the Idlib standoff:

First, he said, the Russians will avoid a regional war and they won’t confront Turkey. Second, the Syrian economy is in ruins as “the Syrian pound has tumbled to over to 1,000 pounds to the dollar.”

“They have never seen this in Syria before. The economy is in shambles. Nobody is going to put that economy back together again. Russia and Iran do not have the money. And the West and the Arab world is not going to help until we get a political solution. So we’ll just let this political and economic pressure grow on the regime,” he suggested.

Jeffrey’s words have been interpreted as a go-ahead message to the Turkish army in Idlib so that the Syrian army cannot get the full control of the enclave before Geneva-based efforts for a political breakthrough could be possible.

The continued military standoff will also create further friction between Turkey and Russia in the eyes of the U.S. diplomats and that would secure the U.S. military presence in Syria for a longer period of time. For many reasons, changing the status quo in Idlib is not seen in the interest of the U.S. under current conditions. And that requires Turkey’s use of military power in the field.

It’s only natural that every country prioritizes its own interests while making foreign and security policies. Visiting U.S. officials are sure trying to promote their priorities in regard to Syria but this is being taken with caution in the Turkish capital.

Ankara welcomes support from the U.S. but it will not lead to a drastic change in its foreign policy, at least for now. Instead, it will try to capitalize on the latest U.S. engagement in its efforts for more balanced diplomacy between Russia and its Western allies.