Turkey to Hold Talks With US Over Syria
US envoy to speak with senior officials in Ankara as Turkey confronts Syrian regime offensive
Turkey is set for talks with the United States on Wednesday amid a regime offensive in Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned of retaliation against the deaths of his country’s troops.
Erdoğan said in Turkey’s parliament in Ankara on Wednesday that his country’s military would strike Syrian forces “anywhere” and “by any means necessary, by air or ground” if another Turkish soldier was hurt by the Syrian regime’s military as it tried to regain control of Idlib province.
US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey told reporters in Ankara Tuesday evening that Turkey was facing threats from Russia and its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A statement from the US State Department said Jeffrey would meet senior Turkish officials to discuss “issues of mutual concern,” including the situation in Idlib and the offensive by Assad.
Turkey said 51 Syrian military personnel were killed and that regime forces had withdrawn from one area in northwestern Syria, amid Assad’s push to take back control of Idlib.
Turkish state news shared a video of a Syrian military helicopter being shot down.
Erdoğan stated on Tuesday that Damascus would pay a “heavy price” for assaults on Turkish troops and his country’s retaliation would continue. Turkey said five were killed on Monday while eight personnel were killed last week during a direct confrontation with Assad’s forces.
Analysts agree that Russia, which backs Assad, does not want a direct confrontation with NATO member state Turkey but there is a risk of accidental contact, which could further expand the nine-year civil war in Syria.
Ünal Çeviköz, deputy chairperson of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told The Media Line that his party would urge the government to negotiate with Russia and, in some way with Damascus.
“Without talking to Syria it’s impossible to resolve that dilemma,” he said.
Turkey has observation posts in Idlib region, some of which have been encircled by the Syrian regime.
Çeviköz said that Turkey should consider a partial withdrawal to get the soldiers out of harm’s way.
The UN has stated that about 700,000 people have been displaced from heightened violence since the start of December in Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
Ankara wants to stop hundreds of thousands of Syrians from entering the country, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Surveys have shown widespread resentment towards Syrians in Turkey with the majority of respondents wanting them to eventually return to Syria.
The issue was partly blamed for Erdoğan’s party losing the mayoral election for Istanbul last year.
Muzaffer Şenel, assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Şehir University, warned that Turkey’s military involvement in Idlib will unlikely be short-term and that Idlib could turn into a situation similar to the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war when 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered.
“The world is ready to apologize five years later but not now,” Şenel said. “The humanitarian catastrophe is on the way.”
Jeffery’s arrivals in Istanbul Tuesday followed a tweet by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who wrote, “The ongoing assaults by the Assad regime and Russia must stop. I’ve sent Jim Jeffrey to Ankara to coordinate steps to respond to this destabilizing attack. We stand by our NATO Ally #Turkey.”
Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, stated that it was uncertain whether the US’s comments would be significant but they did have the possibility of bolstering Turkey’s position.
“It’s good for them if the Americans show an interest to try to pry them away from Moscow a bit,” he told The Media Line.
Brakel believed that the US would seek to limit the violence between its NATO ally and the opposing sides in Syria, as well as try to push Turkey away from Russia.
Relations between the two countries plunged in 2015 after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that Ankara claimed encroached on Turkish airspace. However, even at that time, the Russian foreign minister stated Moscow did not want a war with Turkey.
Ties between the two countries have since improved with major energy and arms deals.
Brakel argued that the US was unlikely to offer military support, such as providing fighter jets over Idlib to protect the Turkish military, and said he did not believe there would be a permanent fracture in relations between Moscow and Ankara.
He stated that even if a deal between opposing sides was brokered in the coming days, it would likely only put off the fighting temporarily.
“I don’t think anyone has an answer of what to do with Idlib,” he said.