Turkey runs out of patience with Assad

ANKARA — Angered at Syria’s indifference to its pleas to end months of bloodshed, Turkey is edging closer to following Western calls for its former ally President Bashar al-Assad to quit, according to analysts.

By (AFP)

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Published: Mon 29 Aug 2011, 6:39 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:19 AM

Turkey has so far held back from making an outright appeal for Assad to leave power but repeatedly called on the leadership to end the offensive against its people and initiate reforms.

Ankara now feels that Assad has failed to keep his promises and President Abdullah Gul explicitly said Sunday that Turkey has lost confidence in the regime in Syria.

“It appears Turkey is gradually coming closer to following the suit of its Western allies,” said Ilter Turan of Istanbul’s private Bilgi University.

“I think Turkish officials now see Assad’s remaining in power will lead to bigger problems.”

Although the two neighbours came close to war in the 1990s over Syria’s harbouring of the now imprisoned Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, relations since then have markedly inmproved.

As part of a “zero problems with neighbours” foreign policy, the two countries have fostered political and trade ties over the last two decades, abolishing the need for visas for cross-border travellers.

Before its relationship with Israel soured over the deadly commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla last year, Turkey also mediated several rounds of indirect peace talks between Syria and the Jewish state.

“We have pursued an engagement policy with Syria since 2005, which turned out to be beneficial as the United States also appointed an ambassador to Damascus,” a Turkish diplomat told AFP.

“We are currently at a point where the engagement is coming to an end,” said the diplomat who wished to remain anonymous.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held talks with Assad for more than six hours during a visit to Damascus early this month, urging him to end the deadly crackdown on opponents and pave the way to political reforms.

“Apparently Davutoglu failed to convince Assad,” columnist Semih Idiz wrote in daily Milliyet on Monday. “In short, we see a ‘dialogue of the deaf’ is taking place between the two countries.”

On August 18, US President Barack Obama made the first explicit call for Assad to resign over his regime’s attacks on protesters, which was swiftly echoed by the leaders of France, Germany and Britain.

Some analysts believe Turkey has been dragging its heels on the Syrian crisis.

“Turkey should have said ‘go’ to the Baath regime long time ago and coordinated its steps with international actors,” said Osman Bahadir Dincer of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation.

Dincer said Turkey should give stronger support for the Syrian opposition.

The unrest in Syria has triggered an inflow of refugees to bordering cities and also sparking fears of a Sunni-Shiite tension.

“We do not want a Sunni-Shiite tension in this geography,” said the Turkish diplomat. “If a secterian clash happens, this will not be limited with Syria and instead will spread throughout the region.”

Ankara believes if Assad had paid heed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for more reforms in January, the situation would not have degenerated so badly.

“Some steps were taken though but they were too little and too late. A crisis of confidence erupted between the Syrian leadership and its people,” said the diplomat. “We do not have a personal problem (with Assad). This is a humanitarian matter.”

The uprising also occupies the agenda of the Turkish opposition as a group of lawmakers from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) will make a fact-finding trip to Syria on September 4, Faruk Logoglu, a party deputy, told AFP.

“What happens at our doorstep in Syria is a top priority for us,” said Logoglu, hoping that the trip would contribute to shaping Turkey’s approach.

The CHP delegation including Logoglu has not asked rendezvous from al-Assad and instead will hold talks with civil society groups and Syrian people, added the lawmaker.

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