No Quick Fix to Syria-Turkey Relations, Turkish Occupation Cannot Be Legitimized
Turkey is unwilling to leave northern Syria but is willing for constructive talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the latter says terrorism in Syria is made in Turkey. Syria and Russia had promised to set up a roadmap to improve strained ties in Moscow following talks with Russia and Iran in May, but it seems complicated.
The much-talked about Syria-Turkey reconciliation has failed to materialize. Assad recently told a UAE-owned media outlet that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objective is to legitimize Turkey’s occupation in Syria. “Why should I and Erdogan mee? To have soft drinks?” The Turkey President said in July he was open to meeting Assad but there would be no policy change. “The door is open to Assad but their approach is important. Assad wants Turkey out of northern Syria. This is out of the question. We are fighting terrorism there.”
Erdogan added that a meeting with Assad can definitely take place. “There is no resentment in politics. Sooner or later, we can take steps.” However, Assad said no preconditions mean meeting without an agenda. “No agenda means no preparation; no preparation means no results, so why do Erdogan and I meet? We want to reach a clear goal. Our goal is the Turkish withdrawal from the Syrian lands, while Erdogan’s goal is to legitimize the presence of the Turkish occupation in Syria. Therefore, the meeting cannot take place under Erdogan’s conditions.”
Turkey has supported rebel forces since the deadly 2011 Syrian civil war, attempting to overthrow Assad’s regime and maintains a heavy military presence in northern Syria that fights the Syrian army and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan said Syria cannot request other countries inside its borders to withdraw while claiming that Turkey’s position there is to fight terrorism on its borders.
Middle East analyst Alexander Langlois believes talks between Syria and Turkey appear to be stuck because of the issue of the Turkish military presence. He said Turkey’s domestic situation plays an important role. “Municipal elections and Turkish sentiments about Syrian refugees certainly play a role in Erdogan’s thinking. But the odds of these elections going poorly for the AKP-led coalition based on the Syrian refugee issue, appears low.”
He highlighted that Ankara has deviated from its initial policy of seeking a change in the Syrian leadership and is focused on Kurdish fighters.