The position of Turkey & USA on Syria
Turkey put forward four conditions for the withdrawal of its troops from Syria, which, in essence, are Ankara’s statement of refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but at the same time do not require his immediate withdrawal.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, citing unnamed sources, reported on December 24 — the conditions are that all parties agree on a new constitution to protect the rights of all groups of the Syrian people; created an electoral system in which all groups are free to participate; formed a legitimate government after the elections; and this government has liquidated terrorist organizations directed against the territorial integrity of Turkey. The importance of this issue stems from the fact that Turkey is currently the only country directly involved in the Syrian crisis that publicly refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the regime in Damascus. It is also the only country that still openly supports the armed opposition.
The above four conditions were mentioned in a newspaper report, but the absence of official comments on this matter (no refutation, no confirmation, or even clarification), according to Turkish analysts, speaks of a deliberate leak and gives it a high degree of credibility. The conditions for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria did not openly provide for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey is one of the countries that has changed its position on the situation in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, based on three main criteria: the situation on the ground in Syria, the international approach to events and its own internal situation. Consequently, after many years of supporting the opposition, Ankara adopted the idea of a political solution aimed at removing Assad from power in Syria, but at the first stage does not provide for his departure. Thus, Turkey is involved in the current political process, including the work of the Constitutional Committee and the dialogue taking place between the regime and the opposition. Turkey deals with but does not recognize the Assad regime, although within Turkey there are many voices close to the government calling for recognition and cooperation with Damascus as part of the common goal of preventing the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.
One of the reasons for Ankara’s non-recognition of the regime in Damascus is that recognition would put Turkey in an awkward position, and she would have to agree to the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria. At the moment, Turkey’s military presence, in her opinion, is legitimate, it operates in Syria under several pretexts, including questions regarding the legitimacy of the Assad regime and its ability to expand its control over the territory, and protection from the claims of the Kurds.
The conditions put forward by Turkey also refer to a situation in which it will be difficult for Assad himself to remain in power in Syria. Ankara believes: — The development of a constitution that will be accepted by all Syrians, the holding of elections in which all Syrians will take part, and the formation of a government representing all Syrians means that the prospective leadership in the future will be very different from the current one, including its head. The relative calm and openness in the region, including the openness of some Arab countries to the Syrian regime, create preconditions for mitigating measures against Assad in the future. Likewise, there may be changes in relations between Ankara and Damascus.
Interpersonal and political problems are unlikely to be overcome by the two leaders in the medium term. And Ankara’s position fully confirms this: it needs “fair” elections, in which, due to pure demography, Assad will not win by definition. The presence of Turkish troops in the north of the country, always and under all regimes in Syria, will be considered an “illegal act” and the exchange of this demand by Damascus for some positive progress in bilateral relations is practically unrealistic. There have always been contacts through the special services, but they should not be given too much importance. They solve purely technical issues, as is done, for example, through the channels between Russian and American security officials, but this does not at all mean positive dynamics in bilateral relations.
The rhetoric of President R.T. Erdogan about the change of B. Assad and his illegitimacy appears in public only when he tries to normalize his relations with the United States. This is a kind of demonstration of readiness to act as the vanguard within the framework of a unified Atlantic position. We note right away that all attempts by the Turkish president to normalize relations with the new US administration since September last year have been rejected by the White House. Moreover, in addition to official sanctions against the military-industrial complex and military-technical cooperation in Turkey, informal ones have now been introduced by the United States, Canada and the EU.
In general, Washington’s position on the Syrian dossier remains vague and vague. The National Defense Authorization Act, recently ratified by the US Congress, contains several sections dedicated to Syria, but there is no clear line of conduct. President J. Biden, who found himself at a crossroads between maintaining a military presence and applying tough sanctions against Damascus, has not yet determined his policy in Syria. His administration has struggled to chart a clear course for Damascus, and the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed by Congress on December 15, is unlikely to help much. A status quo persists between the rejection of some of the sanctions against the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad and the lack of clarity on those that have been approved. The law calls on the government to define a United States diplomatic and defense strategy for Syria within 90 days.
Congress is mostly concerned about the timing of the military presence in northeastern Syria alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). He also asked the White House to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from the Al-Tanf garrison, where US forces were attacked by an Iranian drone on December 14. The presence of the US military there, meanwhile, is a key element of support for the opposition militant group Maghawir al-Tawra (MAT). Founded in 2014 by the United States as part of training and equipping the Syrian resistance factions to fight the Assad and IS regime, the MAT now does not have a clear mission due to the low activity of IS, but, nevertheless, received renewed funding from the Americans. Congress has not yet been able to deal with the negative humanitarian impact of the Caesar Act, and the US Treasury recently approved sanctions relief for the Lebanese crisis.
In September, a State Department delegation visited northern Syria, where it met with the Kurds as part of confirming its position on their unconditional support. And rejection of it is the main condition of Ankara in the framework of normalizing relations and creating a single bloc in the Syrian direction. It follows from this negative dynamics of the development of bilateral relations that Erdogan’s anti-Assad rhetoric is muffled, which does not change the essence of the Turkish position: Assad must leave, but for now “no war, no peace, but technical issues are being resolved within the framework of working contacts between security officials.”
In the long term, Ankara will be within a regional and international framework that operates on the basis of accepting what the Syrians accept. However, in any case, it will be a compromise that will satisfy the various regional and international parties and guarantee their interests.