Turkey hardens stance against Syria
Turkey has signalled possible support for a buffer zone to protect Syrian civilians if Damascus continues its crackdown on democracy protests, as tensions rise between the two former strategic partners.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Ankara was preparing targeted sanctions against Damascus and left the door open for more drastic steps at a later date, such as a buffer zone or a no fly-zone on Syrian territory.
“The Syrian regime is attacking the Syrian people, which is unacceptable,” Mr Davutoglu said in an interview. “When we see such an event next door to us of course we will never be silent.”
When asked about Turkey’s stance on a buffer zone or a no-fly zone, he said: “We hope that there will be no need for these type of measures but of course humanitarian issues are important…There are certain universal values all of us need to respect and protecting citizens is the responsibility of every state.”
His comments are an indication of the growing pressure Turkey is putting on Syria, on the rhetorical level at least, to halt the crackdown.
By contrast, in August Turkish officials rejected reports they were planning to impose a buffer zone, while Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general, dismissed the idea of a no-fly zone this week.
Turkey’s position is important because the country cultivated closer ties with Damascus until this year and is now taking an active role in reaching out to the Syrian opposition.
Speaking at the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, praised the Syrian protests as “glorious” and expressed his belief that they would succeed.
Ankara’s tougher approach has been greatly welcomed by the US, which has been leading calls for Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, to leave power.
On Tuesday Syrian state television announced that a final agreement had been reached between the Syrian government and an Arab League committee working to find a solution that could end the unrest, although it did not provide any details. The US said it welcomed any international efforts to end the violence in Syria, but reiterated its call for Mr Assad to step down.
Although in the interview Mr Davutoglu denied claims that Turkey allowed armed Syrian rebels to operate from its territory, last week he became one of the first international officials to meet leaders of the Istanbul-based opposition Syrian national council.
Mr Erdogan is also likely to visit Syrian refugee camps in Turkey in the near future, and could announce further sanctions against Damascus when he does. The trip had previously been scheduled for last month, but was postponed because of the death of Mr Erdogan’s mother.
Although Mr Davutoglu said Turkish sanctions against Syria would be targeted rather than broad, any unilateral steps would mark a change of tack for Turkey, which has long depicted sanctions against its neighbours as both ineffective and damaging to its own economy.
“We have always been against sanctions, economic sanctions which will harm people,” Mr Davutoglu said. “But certain measures [that] have an impact on a regime fighting against its own people are different.”
Mr Davutoglu also rejected a claim by Mr Assad that western intervention in Syria could turn the country into another Afghanistan.
“[To compare] Syria to Afghanistan would mean implicitly to accept that it is a failed state, which is not true,” he said. “There is a state continuing in Syria; the important thing is how the leaders of this state are acting.” He added that the correct analogy was with eastern Europe in the 1980s and early 1990s and warned Mr Assad: “Those leaders who do not understand this correctly will lose power.”