Turkey keeps Syria on agenda in EU visit

Turkey and the United States have differing goals when it comes to supporting the Kurds in Kobani.

al-monitor US President Barack Obama listens as he hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, Sept. 5, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Larry Downing.

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ypg, united states, turkey, syria, peshmerga, pyd, islamic state

Oct 24, 2014

During this critical period, as the Islamic State (IS) siege of Kobani continues, the United States has given weapons to the People's Protection Units (YPG) defending Kobani, and the Iraqi peshmerga are preparing to go to Kobani via Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday [Oct. 23] began his visits to Latvia and Estonia with loaded agendas.

The key agenda item of the visit, which started from Latvia's capital Riga, is Turkey’s EU membership and the new steps Turkey has taken in that direction. Latvia will take over as the term president of the EU in January. In this same context, Erdogan will go to Paris Oct. 31 for a working visit.

Project on three pillars

Although Turkey has one leg in Europe, Ankara’s main concern nowadays is Kobani. Turkey has persistently said that it won’t be enough to just fight IS and that Syria needs an integrated project with a safe haven and no-fly zone. Despite all the recent developments, Turkey has not modified its position.

Ankara still advocates a three-pillar project in the region. Turkey consistently tells the United States that the military aspect of the struggle should not be cleansing the region of IS but also the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Democratic Union Party (PYD) extension, hence the requirement for serious support for the moderate opposition.

The second pillar is political. It states that Syria needs political transformation, a restructured army and the creation of a democratic environment where all political segments can participate.

The third pillar of the project is the indispensable need for President Bashar al-Assad to leave.

When Turkey continues to insist on these points, how is one to interpret the assistance given to the YPG and opening a corridor for peshmerga? According to what we have been told, Erdogan, in a talk with Barack Obama immediately before the United States sent assistance to the YPG, repeated Turkey’s view that air operations will not produce results. Obama said he agreed with that view, but something had to be done because of the urgency of the situation in Kobani.

More frequent contacts

In that conversation, the two leaders agreed there should be more contacts toward taking firm, integrated steps and for their teams to work harder. Obama told Erdogan that he agrees with the need for Assad to depart and that he actually thinks training and equipping the Free Syrian Army (FSA) might achieve just that. Ankara, however, said this would not be enough.

According to Ankara, it is essential to create a safe zone starting from Turkey’s Hatay with a width between 40 to 100 kilometers (25 to 62 miles). Train-and-equip operations will be conducted there and refugees will be transferred to that zone.

So far, these proposals have not met positive responses, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that America has somewhat softened its opposition to Turkey’s views.

Why Kobani?

Although the United States may appear more amenable to Turkey’s proposals, its priority is still Kobani. Ankara keeps saying that there are few civilians left in that area and asks the United States, "Why Kobani?"

The United States replies by drawing attention to the international media coverage of the area by CNN and the BBC. The US administration says that in view of the strong public support for Kobani they won’t be able to explain why they didn’t intervene.

The PYD’s attitude

Erdogan’s remarks in Riga that the United States had given that assistance “despite Turkey” indicates that Obama was again told that Turkey sees the PYD as an extension of the PKK. Ankara points out that the PYD’s goal is not only to push back IS but to take over the region.

Americans are reminded that the PYD does not want a ground operation by Turkey or by the peshmerga; that while Barzani offered to send 2,000 fighters, the PYD only asked for 200, though it actually wanted the continuation of weapons deliveries and permission for the YPG to use the corridor that Turkey will open.

The PYD is also reported to have responded negatively to Turkey’s proposal to support the transfer of the FSA with all its elements to Kobani area.

Ankara is not thinking of a unilateral ground operation in the region. Ankara from day one has said that it could give a green light to a ground operation only with coalition forces.

But leading nations as the United States, Germany and Britain don’t want to join a ground operation. This is how the peshmerga formula was developed. Turkey, noting that the peshmerga was a legitimate armed force according to the Iraqi constitution, decided that opening a corridor would be possible.

We are reminded that in their May 2013 meeting, Erdogan explained to Obama these likely scenarios in the region, but was told that the United States has no intention of carrying out any operations in the region. All these scenarios, however, have materialized.

Erdogan, in his meeting with businessmen in Riga, said some people were trying hard to create the perception of Turkey supporting IS.

As we can see, even when the issue is the EU, Syria is on the agenda and this is not likely to change for a long time to come.

More from  Serpil Cevikcan

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