Significant nuances between Turkey and US fine-tuned
Sedat Ergin BRISBANE
AA PhotoTurkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has stated that he has received “strong signals” from U.S. President Barack Obama indicating changes in Washington’s policy on Syria.
Today, there are “more joint parameters” between Turkey and the United States for following an integrated strategy that covers both Iraq and Syria, Davutoğlu said.
“This is what we insistently say: an integrated strategy is needed. Then, we will shoulder the responsibility,” Davutoğlu told a group of journalists who had been following him during his visit to Australia’s eastern coastal city of Brisbane, which hosted a summit that gathered the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies.
The prime minister’s remarks were delivered following his lengthy meeting with Obama on Nov. 15 on the sidelines of the ninth G20 summit.
Below are excerpts from Davutoğlu’s remarks concerning his exchange of views with Obama:
Thanks offered to Obama for Myanmar
Our talk with U.S. President Barack Obama focused on Iraq and Syria. However, before that, I offered him thanks because of the support he lent to Muslims in Myanmar. Obama said: ‘I have been following [the situation] closely. It is an extremely fair demand; I will continue following it.’
We have very intense contacts at every level with the U.S. on the issues of Syria and Iraq. Frankly speaking, we indeed have a common perspective; it emerged today … Virtually, we don’t have a difference of view with America in regards to Syria’s future. They have been stating all along as well that [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad should go. They are also saying the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIL] should go; we are saying that, too. However, so to speak, sometimes, different things can come up in synchronization and in timing, because the countries’ concerns and risks they encounter are different from each other. Since Turkey is feeling the incident from a closer distance, it wants to immediately resolve the issue and establish the presence of stability at its borders. This is what we have wanted for three years. I am not saying this with an indication of rush or panic; while we were meeting al-Assad with great determination and through taking many risks, we were trying to convince al-Assad because we had noticed the approaching storm.
In order to pave the way for a rapid completion of transition after al-Assad, we lent support to the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and moderate groups at a time when ISIL hadn’t yet emerged. At that time, we always expressed our opinions to the U.S. and Europeans. I requested a safe zone for the first time in late 2011.
US priorities shifting
We are closely feeling the danger, that’s why we say ‘Let’s resolve this issue at once.’ Frankly, in America, they are not leaning toward the idea of an intervention into Syria since they experienced a war in Iraq. Their desire to not intervene is something understandable. However, from the beginning, even while we were meeting [with al-Assad], they declared al-Assad illegitimate. Now, they have been noticing…
This is what they [the U.S.] were saying four months ago: ‘ISIL must be destroyed. The regime will be dealt with later.’
Yet, they now realize the regime has been exploiting this matter. Because they have seen the regime’s latest attacks targeting Aleppo, Obama today openly [said]: ‘Assad should go.’
They are noticing that, there will be no stability by solely [struggling against] ISIL and without having a complete transformation.
[In response to a question on ‘Is it to say that Obama is openly saying ‘al-Assad should go?’]
Today, he stated that al-Assad needs to go, but the sequence was different. They were saying: ‘Let’s resolve ISIL and then worry about al-Assad.’ However, these attacks against Aleppo displayed that even without ISIL, there will be a new refugee influx. I said: ‘If Aleppo falls and there is no safe zone, can you estimate how many new refugees will come to Turkey?’
We are asking this question to all of them. The localization in Kobane prevented seeing the big picture. We have been trying to explain this for two months. The big picture of Syria disappeared and instead was focused on Kobane.
Impossible not to notice contradiction
Another significant difference of sequence by America is its saying, ‘First focus on Iraq; they have an army and the Peshmerga there. Let’s fix the situation there.’ Yet we believe ISIL, which has withdrawn from Iraq, will become a bigger force and threat in Syria if a joint strategy for Iraq and Syria is not developed. Now that the borders [between Iraq and Syria] have been removed, we need to follow a common strategy on this entire line. Here are the significant nuances.
[In response to a question on ‘Are these nuances today being narrowed down?’]
Yes, they are being narrowed down; you can feel that, because they notice that there is a very clear picture. ISIL will not be easily eliminated and al-Assad is, meanwhile, tearing down Aleppo. It is impossible for them not to notice this contradiction.
Agreement on need for third option in Syria
We have honestly discussed all of these. There is already a mechanism of very intense meetings between us [Turkey and the U.S.]. Vice President Joe Biden will come [to Turkey] too. The matter on which we agreed is more swiftly lending support to the FSA and moderate groups in the shortest possible time. That is to say, it’s not possible to come through the Syria crisis without having a third alternative force on the ground. In other words, it shouldn’t be ‘let Syrian people be clamped between al-Assad and ISIL.’ There are strong signals that they have been seeing this picture more comprehensively. But this is not meant to say that something will happen immediately.
QUESTION: Is there a radical transformation in America’s stance?
Wallahi [I swear to Allah], there are stronger signals.
QUESTION: Is there a joint action plan?
The U.S. system is like a huge ocean liner. It takes time for it to change its direction. It is possible for the various departments within the U.S. administration to have different opinions. What matters is to which direction the president tends among all of these opinions. Today, when you talk to the U.S. president face to face; that the direction of the person, who is the head of this ocean liner, has turned. Yes, it has turned; you can feel that, of course.
Agreement being reflected on the ground
QUESTION: In their order, they said first ISIL and then al-Assad, with latter being attributed a secondary importance. Your impression from today’s meeting is that America has changed this order. Can we say it has transited to a position that is saying ‘Both al-Assad and ISIL?’
Yes, it is transiting in that direction. This is what we insistently say: an integrated strategy is needed. Then, we will shoulder the responsibility. We need to see an integrated strategy. Not point target and tactical moves such as saying ‘Turkey should give this and that support for Kobane.’ We then ask: ‘One moment, what will happen after Kobane?’ Where will this matter head to afterward? I can say there are more joint parameters about that integrated strategy.
QUESTION: Are the U.S. and Turkey being considered in an agreement on this issue?
There is more technical work needed to be done. There is no difference in assessments.
QUESTION: When will this [agreement] be reflected on the ground?
As a matter of fact, it has slowly begun to be reflected. Of course, it has details…
Intervention into Kobane would require intervention in Aleppo
Not Obama, but the leader of another country asked me: ‘Could you intervene in Kobane?’ I said; ‘If we had intervened in Kobane to protect the Kurds, then we should have intervened in Bayır-Bucak as well to protect the Turkmens there. Then, we should also intervene in Idlib and Aleppo to protect the Arabs, because we have citizens from all of those ethnicities. We have Arab-origin, Turkmen-origin and Kurdish-origin citizens.’