Turkey returns to the Syria table

Turkey returns to the Syria table

An important meeting will take place in London today in which the future of Syria will be discussed with the participation of Riyad Hijab, the general coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and the representative of Syrian opposition forces, who will make a presentation about his vision on the political transition process in the war-torn country. 

Along with Western world powers and regional countries, like the United States, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Turkey will also be around the table as a country with strong bonds with the oppositional groups. This meeting comes at a time when the U.S. and Russia have intensified efforts for an agreement that would bring about a temporary pause to the armed conflict so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to civilians who have been caught between two fires, particularly in Aleppo. 

United Nations-led efforts to implement a cease-fire in this key northern Syrian city were launched weeks ago, as the only gateway to carry humanitarian aid to Aleppo was closed due to heavy clashes between the regime and opposition forces. Although last-ditch initiatives between the U.S. and Russia failed to produce an agreement in China, all parties are very much hopeful that a cease-fire will be declared just before Eid al-Adha. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also joined the diplomatic efforts to this end, stating openly that Turkey was ready to open a corridor from its border to Aleppo to provide humanitarian aid to the civilians. At a press conference he held on the last of his visit to China, he said he raised the issue with his American and Russian counterparts, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, recalling that his counterparts were positive on the Turkish suggestion.  

It should be noted that these two recent developments follow the Turkish cross-border operation into northern Syria that helped the Free Syrian Army (FSA) gain control of some key positions along the Turkish border and push the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from the Turkish-Syrian border. 

As one can recall, Turkey lost almost all of its leverage on Syria late last year after it downed a Russian warplane. The normalization of ties with Moscow paved the way for Turkey to launch its Shield of Euphrates Operation and clear its border of jihadists, allowing it to suggest deliveries of aid to Aleppo and resume its active role to find a political transition in Syria.  

One other aspect is the fact that Turkey can talk more loudly about the establishment of a safe zone in the region it cleared of ISIL terrorists and offer to reinforce it through the declaration of a no-fly zone so that future refugee flows can be stopped inside Syrian territory. 

Although Erdoğan depicted a rather positive U.S. take on the Turkish proposal, it will be hard to let Washington accept it due to operational difficulties and other sensitivities. Such an idea would also not be warmly received by the Russians, Iranians and the al-Assad regime, as none of them want a continuing military operation over Syrian airspace. 

This notwithstanding, it’s important to see that Turkey could strengthen its hand in Syria as the five-year-long unrest comes to a very critical phase: ISIL is under heavy attack and is losing territory every day with plans to be removed from al-Bab and Raqqa as well; the Americans and Russian are getting closer to a deal, first for a cease-fire and then for a larger agreement that would also bring about the beginning of a political transitional period; Turkey has been abandoning the “Assad must leave first” condition and an understanding between Ankara and Washington over the role of the Syrian Kurds is much more likely than in the past. 
Given all these facts, it could not be much timelier for Turkey to return to the Syrian table.