Turkey pushes for no-fly zone in Syria, US still reluctant

Turkey pushes for no-fly zone in Syria, US still reluctant

Sevil Erkuş
Turkey pushes for no-fly zone in Syria, US still reluctant

Syrian Kurdish refugee children from the Kobane area speak after receiving food rations in front of living quarters separated by plastic sheets at a camp in Suruç, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Turkey has pushed the U.S. to declare a no-fly zone and safe haven in northern Syria, as part of a coalition strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Washington is still reluctant for such a move.

Turkey and the U.S. have a “general mutual understanding,” but the two parties have not reached a deal on a train-and-equip program for the "moderate opposition" in Syria, a Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey and the U.S. have not reached a final agreement on the number of Syrian opposition soldiers to be trained, or which opposition groups would be part of the train-and-equip program, according to the diplomat, who also noted that there is no exact date to launch the program. The political leadership will soon decide on the issue, the diplomat added.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Ankara will not alter its current position on joining the anti-jihadist coalition unless the international community targets the Bashar al-Assad regime and moves to establish a security zone and no-fly zone inside Syria.

“[The international community] has not yet taken the steps we recommended to them. There are only some signals and possibilities. Turkey’s position will surely continue as it is unless [its recommendations] are put in place,” Erdoğan told reporters before his departure to Algeria on Nov. 19. 

Turkey has long been pressing the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIL to equally designate toppling the al-Assad regime as an objective and to take military measures to this end. Establishing security zones inside Syria and creating a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace are among Turkey’s conditions before it will actively participate in the coalition. For its part, Washington has been requesting the opening of a number of Turkish air bases to facilitate an aerial campaign conducted by coalition fighters. 

The only deal currently on the table between Turkey and the U.S. is to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition groups but, as Erdoğan said, no final agreement has been made on this issue either.

“We would be deceiving ourselves if we only talk about training and equipping [Syrian opposition]. We should evaluate Iraq and Syria differently. In Syria, efforts aimed at toppling the al-Assad regime should be carried out,” Erdoğan said, reiterating Turkey’s demand for established security zones inside Syria.

A general strategy for both is necessary, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç also said, when asked if a no-fly zone is a condition to launch a train-and-equip program. 

“I can’t specifically say this is a condition, but our approach to the region is obvious. We think an extensive strategy should be drawn up. This problem cannot be resolved merely by airstrikes against ISIL. This broad strategy must include a no-fly zone, safe havens and a train-and-equip program,” Bilgiç said, adding that the establishment of a safe haven would prevent any influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey from near Aleppo.

The spokesperson stressed that negotiations with the U.S. are still underway and “it’s not appropriate to say one is a precondition for another while the talks are still continuing.”

All issues, including a no-fly zone, are sure to be on the agenda of talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to Turkey, Bilgiç also noted.

Meanwhile, Obama’s special envoy for coalition efforts against the jihadist threat in Iraq and Syria, John Allen, had talks with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu on Nov. 19.