Turkey disregards Assad’s escalation; experts say “Rapprochement track is not interrupted”

Bashar al-Assad, head of the Syrian regime, escalates his rhetoric against Ankara in an exclusive interview with Sky News Arabia - August 9 (Screenshot)

Bashar al-Assad, head of the Syrian regime, escalates his rhetoric against Ankara in an exclusive interview with Sky News Arabia - August 9 (Screenshot)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

The statements of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to the UAE-based Sky News Arabia on August 9 opened the door to questions about the possibility of continuing the path of Turkish rapprochement with Damascus in light of the attack and escalation of the rhetoric launched by al-Assad against Turkey in general and the Turkish president in particular.

Al-Assad also in the interview denied rumors of an upcoming meeting between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying, “Erdogan’s objective in meeting me is to legitimize the Turkish occupation in Syria,” al-Assad said in the interview. “Why should I and Erdogan meet? To have soft drinks?

In response to the Turkish president’s statements stressing that the Turkish forces will remain in Syria to fight “terrorism,” al-Assad escalated his rhetoric against Ankara, considering that “Terrorism in Syria is made in Turkey. (Jabhat al-Nusra) and (Ahrar al-Sham) are different names for one side, all of them are Turkish industry and funded until this moment by Turkey, so what kind of terrorism is he talking about?” (referring to Erdogan).

Al-Assad’s statements are an additional episode in a series of statements in which he attacks Turkey, in parallel with the talks on the rapprochement path that Russia is pushing and sponsoring. However, what characterizes the latest statement is that it coincided with indications that the political trajectory between the two sides has faltered, which in more than eight months has not gone beyond ministerial-level meetings and below for the Quartet parties (Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime), without tangible development on the ground, despite talk of a “positive” or “constructive” atmosphere after the meetings.

On March 16, during his fifth visit to Russia since the start of the Syrian revolution, al-Assad attributed the issue of the security imbalance on the Syrian-Turkish border to what he said was “Erdogan’s policy,” considering that the issues of security and refugees, as a Turkish problem, were produced by the Justice and Development Party led by the Turkish president.

When he participated for the first time since 2010 in the Arab Summit that took place in Jeddah on May 19, al-Assad referred to what he described as “the danger of Ottoman expansionist thought which is flavored with deviant Muslim Brotherhood ideology.”

Despite these statements, the political meetings within the “Quartet” continued, leading to the meeting of the deputy foreign ministers that took place in Astana, in conjunction with the 20th round of the Astana process, on June 20-21.

These meetings were the latest that took place within the framework of the rapprochement negotiations, giving al-Assad’s recent statements a different impact in view of a time indicator and other mutual indicators that do not suggest tangible progress that justifies the continuation of the meetings in this regard.

Apart from Assad’s statements

Al-Assad’s statements met with unofficial Turkish resentment and government disregard, as Turkish media outlets recaptured al-Assad’s attack on Turkey, describing his statement as “insolent.”

The last Turkish ambassador to Damascus, Ömer Önhon, considered what al-Assad said in his meeting to be nothing new, explaining that al-Assad repeated what he had been saying for months and what the press was writing about.

During an interview with Independent Turkey on August 11, and in response to a question about al-Assad’s statements that stressed the condition for Turkish withdrawal from Syria before any meeting with the Turkish president, Önhon added, “I did not see any innovation in his words in this regard, for this reason, I cannot say this process of normalization has ended, and it has not ended,” indicating that al-Assad made it clear what everyone knows.

Mahmoud Alloush, an analyst and expert in Turkish affairs, considered that the path of Turkish rapprochement with the regime exists in isolation from al-Assad’s statements, although it is proceeding very slowly, but at the same time it is proceeding within the framework of the “Quartet meetings,” and matters are still complicated with regard to the Turkish withdrawal from northwestern Syria.

Al-Assad’s statements did not bring anything new regarding the Turkish military presence in Syria, and it seems that al-Assad’s position to impose his conditions on Turkey is weaker compared to what was before the Turkish elections.

It is clear that the track is not only linked to Turkey and the regime, as there are accounts linked to Russia and Russian-Turkish relations, which is a strong motive for the continuation of the talks between Ankara and Damascus.

Mahmoud Alloush, Expert in Turkish affairs

On May 28, Erdogan was re-elected as President of Turkey for the next five years, contrary to al-Assad’s hopes for a political change in Turkey that could advance the course of the two sides’ relations, according to statements he made in Moscow in mid-March.

The Istanbul-based analyst indicated that the next meeting of the “Quartet” foreign ministers when it convenes, may give impetus to the negotiation process between Ankara and Damascus.

But there are some complications ahead of the track, which is recognized, and on top of these complications is that Turkey is not willing to agree to raise the issue of the future of its military presence in Syria for discussion.

This is for several reasons, including Turkish skepticism about the regime’s ability to regain control of the land, as well as fear of a formal return of the regime to the areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which could lead to strengthening its administration in that region.

There is also a Turkish concern that if the regime enters the opposition-held areas, there may be new waves of refugees from Syria to Turkey, and it will be difficult to persuade the refugees to return to Syria.

These issues do not encourage the Turkish side to think of withdrawal, and there will be Turkish municipal elections after months, and the talk of a meeting between Erdogan and al-Assad falls within the framework of the Turkish internal discourse.

Everyone knows that it is difficult to expect a meeting between Erdogan and al-Assad in any case because the meeting means reconciliation, which is largely excluded due to the great differences between the two sides.

But the path of rapprochement depends on Turkish-Russian relations, and Putin’s upcoming visit to Turkey may achieve a push in the path of rapprochement. It is a common political interest and more beneficial for al-Assad than Turkey.

Mahmoud Alloush, Expert in Turkish affairs

All eyes are on Erdogan and Putin’s meeting

On July 28, the Russian RIA Novosti agency quoted an unnamed source in the Russian diplomatic department that a meeting of the Quartet foreign ministers is currently under discussion, but their agenda must coincide.

The Russian source considered that the process (referring to rapprochement) is continuing, and that the issue of the meeting is under discussion, but to reach results, it is necessary to agree on the agendas of the ministers.

Taha Odeh Oglu, a researcher in Turkish politics, told Enab Baladi that al-Assad’s recent statements appear to be nothing more than a reaction, and at the Turkish official level, no responses were issued.

This indicates, according to Odeh Oglu, that Ankara does not care about these statements of al-Assad, and is aware that the de facto ruler is the Russians, and the main interlocutor in this track are the Russians and what will judge the meeting between Erdogan and al-Assad in the next stage is the meeting that will bring together the two presidents, the Turkish and the Russian, during the coming days.

The Turkish analyst considered that the decline in the pace of rapprochement after the Turkish elections depends on the apathy of relations between Turkey and Russia, and what originally pushed Ankara to rapprochement is necessarily associated with basic files, including the fight against “terrorism” and the return of refugees, and the strengthening of Turkish relations with Moscow, as the relationship with the Syrian regime, is security, and it can be dealt with through the intelligence services on both sides.

It appears from al-Assad’s statements that he has closed the door to the path of normalization, but this is unlikely due to the regime’s need for Turkey and the latter’s need to implement some steps related to the return of refugees and the issue of terrorism, and combating organizations that Ankara considers terrorist.

It is recognized that the issue of Turkish normalization with the regime will be present on the table of discussions between Erdogan and Putin when they meet.

Taha Odeh Oglu, A Researcher in Turkish politics

On July 17, the Turkish president confirmed that his country is not ready to withdraw from northern Syria, as it is working to “combat terrorism” there.

He added that al-Assad demanded that Turkey leaves the areas in which it is stationed in northern Syria, but this cannot happen, as it is fighting “terrorism” there, which brings the path of rapprochement back to the starting point and what also preceded it from the continuous assurances of the Syrian regime that associates the progress of the rapprochement process with Ankara with the Turkish withdrawal, with the continuation of the political meetings in this regard, followed by an emphasis on the same scale.




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