Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s remarks yesterday created a frenzy in foreign policy circles. Responding to a question on Syria, Davutoglu said: “If the Arab League and regional initiatives can’t produce a solution; if we keep on getting news of clashes and fatalities on a daily basis and there is a heavy demand for refuge in our country; this issue will naturally assume international dimensions. When that happens, and the UN gets involved, we will contribute - with humanitarian motives.”
Which means? In diplomatic lingo, the minister was saying that, should Assad persist in his methods; deaths continue; and no solution materialize after months of crisis, then Turkey will set up a buffer zone [within the framework] of a UN decision.
Surprising? Not at all. The Turkish position from the outset has been that Ankara could lead the way for a safe buffer zone along the border if a reasonable solution is not found and if there is international consensus for such a move.
But it is more significant that he is saying this today, and not six months ago - because the diplomatic calendar is in motion now. The Arab League could not accomplish what it wanted to with observers. The issue is slowly sliding toward the UN Security Council.
Turkey does not intend to dive in without an international decision and without Russia’s blessing. That is why he will be making two critical trips in the coming weeks.
The first is the visit to Moscow next week. The second will be a trip to Washington towards the end of February.
In both visits, serious and profound bargaining should not come as a surprise. The Assad regime will collapse in the end, under the pressure of internal demands for freedom and external pressure. But how, and when? The answers to these questions and the new map of the Arab Spring are likely to take shape during Davutoglu’s visits.