Sunday, May 19, 2013

Obama to Erdogan: 'You toe the line... NOW!'

"...What happened instead is that Obama convinced Erdoğan to move away from the military line and support the political-diplomatic effort, now being spearheaded by Washington and Moscow, for a settlement to the conflict through talks involving the Syrian opposition and the regime. A meeting under UN auspices in Geneva in July 2012 had endorsed the idea of talks between the opposition and the regime, but Ankara never approached it with much enthusiasm.Erdoğan himself is on record as saying recently that the effort to revive the Geneva process amounts to “spreading flour on a string,” a Turkish saying suggesting a waste of time. The fact that he is now openly supporting the proposed second Geneva summit, expected to be held in the coming weeks, represents a serious change in position.
Aware, however, that Ankara’s open support for the Geneva process would be out of tune with the media hype in Turkey prior to Erdoğan’s Washington visit, Obama did not leave his host in the lurch. During their joint press conference at the White House with Erdoğan he reiterated that they were “going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition.”...
These remarks were enough to save the day for Erdoğan back in Turkey given that he continues to insist there is no room for Assad in any settlement. Tellingly, pro-government papers in Turkey were keen to highlight these remarks of Obama’s. But the devil is in the details and it did not take long for experts to see this after a “holistic” appraisal of Obama’s remarks.
Obama had, after all, also indicated that the US “preference” was to have seen Assad go a long time ago, but suggested there is no “magic formula” to achieve this. He also added revealingly that “Turkey is going to play an important role as we bring representatives of the regime and opposition together in the coming weeks.”
Reflecting on these remarks, it was clear to Turkish foreign policy experts that Ankara has come around to supporting the Geneva process. Erdoğan himself confirmed this during the press conference with Obama when he said, “The step to be taken by the UN Security Council and the Geneva process are important.”
He also added that it was “very important” for Russia and China to be part of this process, saying, “Their participation in this process will certainly add greater impetus.” These remarks of Erdoğan also underscored Ankara’s change in position, given that Moscow and Beijing are continuing with their support for Assad and his regime.
Erdoğan’s government appears to have conceded that while Assad may not be physically at the negotiating table, his presence will be felt whether Ankara likes it or not. Meanwhile, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Armed Forces is due to meet in Istanbul on May 23-25 to establish its stance on the upcoming Geneva talks, and Washington is clearly hoping that the representative to be sent to Geneva will be chosen there with Turkey’s support.
Washington’s recalibration of Turkey’s Syrian policy was also apparent in other areas too. Especially when Obama said during the news conference with Erdoğan that they would keep working for a Syria “that is intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups; and that’s a source of stability, not extremism, because it's in the profound interest of all our nations, especially Turkey.”
These words are significant in light of accusations leveled against the Erdoğan government of supporting the Sunnis in Syria while disregarding the interests and concerns of the Alawites and Christians. Obama’s words are also significant given US dissatisfaction over the presence of al-Qaeda related groups fighting Assad, with support from Turkey, which hope to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
'Daily Syria ripples in Turkey!' 
Obama’s suggestion that Turkey will be one of the main beneficiaries of keeping extremism at bay in Syria can be read as an indirect reference to the recent Reyhanli bombing massacre, allegedly by Assad loyalists, with the implication being that if Turkey plays with fire it will get its hands burned one way or another.
The public expectation in Turkey after the Reyhanli massacre, in which the death toll has reached 52, is also that groups like the Al Nusra Front be placed under closer scrutiny, and be prevented from using Turkish territory for logistical support, since this increases the risk of retaliatory strikes in Turkey by Assad loyalists.
The Turkish public is not too happy over Erdoğan’s announcement in Washington that Ankara’s open-door policy toward Syrian refugees would continue, but many experts say this policy will also be “recalibrated” in the coming period given the risk of clashes between increasingly angry locals and refugees, especially after the twin car bombings in Reyhanli.
The bottom line is that having gone to Washington to try to sway the Obama administration on Syria, Erdogan has ended up being convinced that it is Ankara that needs to recalibrate its Syrian policy, which has in fact provided no results date, leaving Turkey instead facing serious security threats."

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