Differences between the United States and Turkey over Syria are about to peak. The Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) actually sheds light on the rift between the positions of the two countries. It was not the OPCW that led the way to a process for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Behind the scenes were Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, and on stage were Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry. And of course the third pillar was the Syrian government, which accepted the agreement to destroy its chemical weapons. No matter who says what, the peace prize went to Russia, the United States and Syria. The Syrian opposition and the regime agree only on one matter: The true recipient of the award is [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad.
The prize also reflects the conviction that the OPCW will be successful in Syria. This is of course giving credit to Assad. Syrian officials also tout the award as confirmation of the “reliability of Damascus.”
Following the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in Ghouta, when the United States was contemplating a limited attack, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was advocating an attack that would bring the end of Assad. He said, “A limited operation will not satisfy us. It should be the way it was in Kosovo.” The United States — which was previously asserting that Assad had lost his legitimacy — suddenly appeared to be praising him. The strongest reaction to Kerry’s words of gratitude toward Syria came from Erdogan, who said, “Assad is a terrorist.”
In the midst of this duel, the Nobel Prize — by moving the issue from the subject of a possible military intervention as Turkey wanted — rewarded Assad by making him a partner of the international community, at least until the elimination of the chemical weapons is complete. On Oct. 3, Turkey had obtained parliamentary authorization for cross-border military operations by citing the threat of chemical weapons. The Nobel prize coincided with training courses at Gaziantep against chemical warfare, with the participation of the new Syrian “prime minister,” Ahmad Touma, who was elected by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
Worse, while the United States was distancing itself from the Syrian affair, after first contributing to the militarization of the uprising there, Turkey was left exposed as the country empowering al-Qaeda-style organizations. With the recent report by Human Rights Watch stating that the killers of Alawites in Latakia had arrived via Turkey, and The Wall Street Journal article that accused the Turkish intelligence services of acting as traffic policemen, directing shipments of weapons to Syria, Turkey could not escape being labeled an al-Qaeda supporter. More reports of discord between the United States and Turkey are to be expected.
The discord arising from the chemical weapons issue is now being felt in the political process as well. The United States has decided to work on the Syrian file with Russia, which means Qatar and Turkey's time is up. According to the Lebanese daily As-Safir, the new Qatari emir, Tamim [bin Hamad al-Thani], has sent a message to Assad via Fatah official Abbas Zaki, relating his desire to improve relations. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who had relocated to Doha from Damascus, now says all popular movements must secure their rights through peaceful means. The wind has changed direction.
The United States, which could not get what it wanted from the Turkey-Qatar axis, has now turned to the Saudis. The latest move on the chessboard is to expedite the activities of Jordan-based operational centers and the move by Liwa al-Islam — which is controlled by the Saudi intelligence services — to set up an Islamic army in Syria with 50 groups that were attached to the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Although the Saudis might wish to push for the removal of Assad, the United States hopes to put pressure on al-Qaeda with moderate Salafists and empower the opposition before going to Geneva. The road to Geneva has too many potholes. It looks increasingly difficult for the Saudi protege, Ahmad Jarba, to take the SNC as a unified body to Geneva. The head of the SNC, George Sarba, who is close to Ankara, announced they are not going to Geneva, while with the defection of 13 religious groups from the military wing, the National Coalition has lost relevance. The FSA is in turmoil. FSA spokesman Fahd al-Masri called the chief of staff of his army a “tool of the intelligence services.”
Nevertheless, the United States can still overcome the reluctance of the Kurds and the National Coalition to participate in Geneva. The United States is coming close to the Russian position, which wants to see the Democratic Union Party and the Syrian National Coordination Council (NCC) in Geneva.
In short, although Turkey appears to be delighted that an organization led by a Turk has received the Nobel Peace Prize, we are on the loser’s side of the ledger.