Turkey’s foreign minister told France 24 in an interview this weekend that his country was prepared “to do everything for [the] Syrian people.” Ahmet Davutoğlu said the demands of the Syrian opposition “are right demands” but insisted that international action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad should be coordinated with the United Nations.
In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” Ankara has distanced itself from Damascus despite fostering trade relations with the Ba’athist regime there in previous years. President Abdullah Gül said that he had “lost confidence” in his Syrian counterpart in August of last year and Turkey has refused to close its border with Syria for refugees seeking to escape the brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.
Erecting a “buffer zone” along the border may be a step too far for the Turks to do on their own even if a Syrian National Council that aims to organize the opposition to President Assad has been allowed to set up its headquarters in Istanbul.
Turkey seems anxious to position itself as a champion of the revolutionary cause lest the new rulers in countries as Egypt and possibly Syria remember that it was quite willing to work with their authoritarian predecessors until just last year. Asked whether he sees a role for Turkey as a regional power broker Davutoğlu said, “Of course.”
Whenever there is any need for Turkish help and assistance, we are always here in the most critical geographical part of the world.
The academic turned politician had more conciliatory words for Iran. Ever the diplomat, Davutoğlu said his country didn’t feel obliged to support unilateral Western sanctions against the Islamic republic. “The best and only way to solve this dispute is diplomacy,” he said.
Turkey’s resurgence as a regional power has complicated its relations with the West. Where it used to be staunchly pro-American and wished to become a member of the European Union, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party appear to have realigned their nation to become a Middle Eastern one again. Davutoğlu will have to more clearly communicate Ankara’s motives to the West if Turkey is to become the interlocutor it says it aspires to be.
America’s and Europe’s rejection of the nuclear fuel exchange agreement which Turkey negotiated with the Iranians in conjunction with Brazil two years ago wouldn’t appear to bode well for its regional aspirations but it is the only NATO member that the Iranians trust as their middleman — even after, just last month, it agreed to host an early warning radar on its soil that will be part of a system designed to shoot down Iranian missiles.