Where is Turkey in Syrian diplomacy?
The mood of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before his departure to St. Petersburg to attend the G-20 Summit last week was to discuss with and convince world leaders to inflict a heavy military blow against the Syrian regime in the aftermath of chemical weapons attack on civilians on Aug. 21.
He planned to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to urge him that a limited military strike would not be helpful to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime and that Turkey was ready to support a substantial military operation in Syria. But what he just had in St. Petersburg was a quick word with Obama which did not give Erdoğan him a chance to make his case.
But what Erdoğan missed in St. Petersburg was not only an appointment with Obama but developing a diplomatic formula between Americans and Russians to avert a military option in Syria. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov had informed the media that the possibility of placing Syrian chemical weapons under international control was discussed between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s well-known that Obama is not really fond of ordering a military strike and that Putin was seeking an honorable exit in the Syrian quagmire particularly after al-Assad wielded chemical weapons against civilians.
Following Friday talks in St. Petersburg, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stayed in Europe over the weekend where he had consecutive talks with both European and Arab foreign ministers. In between, he reportedly had several phone conversations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov before he told the media in London that a military strike could be avoided if Assad would turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community.
Although his statement was found sarcastic by many, Kerry received a phone call from Lavrov while on board from London to Washington informing him that he would soon make a statement on his proposal. In the meantime, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who coincidentally happened to be in Moscow on that very day, expressed his government’s support to the proposal.
The Washington-Moscow-brokered diplomacy was soon supported by France, which said it would bring a resolution before the U.N. Security Council that would condemn the chemical weapons massacre of Aug. 21 and “require that this regime sheds light without delay on its chemical weapons program, that they be placed under international control and that they be dismantled.”
How this diplomacy will end up and whether this could bring about a change in the course of developments in Syria will surely take time. As Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu described, it could well be a cosmetic move and that it could allow al-Assad to win more time and continue his massacres, but at least it provides an opportunity for diplomacy to prevail; especially when concerns are growing about a regional spillover of the fire in Syria as a result of a foreign military intervention.
Diplomacy is at work in Syria; the question is where is Turkey in this diplomacy?