US, Turkey in talks to shape post-Assad era
FM Davutoğlu says Turkey can handle no more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. AP photoWith clashes between Syrian security forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) intensifying, senior Turkish and American officials met yesterday in a first “operational planning” meeting to coordinate ongoing efforts to extend humanitarian aid to Syrians and to produce a common road map to shape the post-al-Assad era.
The meeting between Turkish and American officials and experts stands as a first operational planning session, identifying a new phase in efforts to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The Turkish delegation is being chaired by Halit Çevik, deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, and U.S. envoy Elizabeth Jones will lead the American team during the talks which have begun in a secret location in Ankara.
Among the issues the two parties discussed, the most urgent was the growing number of refugees fleeing Syria, and Turkey’s announcement that it will have to assist Syrian refugees inside Syria if the total number exceeds 100,000. Apart from humanitarian capabilities, this also requires the involvement of military elements to provide for their security. This is why the teams are also working on potential contingency plans should the need arise to establish security zones inside the country. Though the U.S. shows reluctance to cross the border, it is not against discussing the issue. According to diplomatic sources, the results of this meeting are not necessarily to be immediately implemented. The contingency plans also address Syria’s strong chemical and biological weapons stockpile and a potential attack by al-Assad forces.
PKK on the table
The meetings also raised the issue of the need for a smooth transition in Syria to avoid a chaos in the country in case of the collapse of the al-Assad regime. The threat of armed groups, including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and al-Qaeda, possibly exploiting a power vacuum in Syria is also expected to figure high on the agenda of the Ankara meeting.
Turkish officials were expected to touch on the recent rise in terrorism on the part of the PKK and to ask American officials to take every measure not to allow terrorist groups to take advantage of the ongoing turmoil in Syria.