Iraq, Syria Not As Important for the US As Iran at the Moment - Prof

© AP Photo / Kevin Lamarque/Pool PhotoUS Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, on what is expected to be "implementation day," the day the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, on what is expected to be implementation day, the day the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal. - Sputnik International
US National Security Adviser John Bolton has left Turkey without meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after angering him with demands that Ankara guarantee protection to the Syrian Kurdish militia. Bolton said on Sunday that US forces would remain in Syria until Turkey agrees not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters.

Sputnik discussed this with Professor Alpaslan Ozerdem, a co-director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University in Britain.

Sputnik: Erdogan has said that he has completed preparations for military operations in Syria, so obviously there are plans?

Alpaslan Ozerdem: All the plans are well laid out, and large numbers of troops have already been deployed to the border. The plans are there and it will take place and I think that President Trump understands that but his administration is really badly divided on this issue.

The military intervention will take place, but whether it's going to be in the western on eastern part of Euphrates is not clear yet, and the scale of it and how it will be taking place, that will depend on what the US will decide to do with YPG, for example, whether or not, to some extent at least, the US will decide to disarm YPG.

READ MORE: Turkey Holds 'Trump Card' in Negotiations Over US Pull Out From Syria — Scholar

And the second part is in terms of what's going to happen to the territory vacated by the US and the YPG. What Turkey doesn't want is that territory in northern Syria to be handed over to the Assad forces. Those two issues will need to be sorted out, and I assume that the talks in Ankara are very much around those two issues.

Sputnik: Yes, indeed there have been comments that Turkey is going to request that the US side either transfer their military bases there to the Turkish side or destroy them.

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Alpaslan Ozerdem: I don't see that happening, because such military bases, obviously, they were important for the fighting against Daesh*, the overall security in northern Syria and the US interests in the region.

But let's not forget that neither Iraq nor Syria is that important for the US at the moment; what really matters for the US is Iran, and I think what we see in Syria at the moment is just a prelude to that eventuality that it will come to at some point, at some point this year I would imagine.

Sputnik: How much is there actual will in your opinion to withdraw troops from Syria, to what extent will Turkey stand to benefit from this?

Alpaslan Ozerdem: I think Trump really wants to be out of Syria, and he said that before he even became President, but his administration is badly divided, so he could make a decision like this in the spur of the moment during a careful conversation with Erdogan and then his administration tries to alleviate the political damage it kind of caused.

In terms of what Turkey would benefit from, that will all depend on what the US will do with the YPG in terms of disarmament: the whole decision in terms of what territory in northern Syria will be under the control of Turkey and whether the YPG will remain west of the Euphrates or withdraw east of the Euphrates.

READ MORE: Turkey, US Agreed Roadmap of YPG's Withdrawal From Syria's Manbij

These are kind of tactical issues, but Turkey is likely to benefit in all occasions unless Turkey spoils its relations with Russia, I think that's the most critical point.

Sputnik: In a recent Op-Ed for The New York Times, President Erdogan wrote that Turkey "is the only country with the power and commitment" to protect the interests of the United States, the international community and the Syrian people and expressed concern "that some outside powers might use" the remnants of the terror group "as an excuse to meddle in Syria's internal affairs." What was behind these comments?

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Alpaslan Ozerdem: Starting with the Iraqi experience that he was referring to in that op-ed and also in places like Afghanistan, I think we've seen this before and I don't think what he argues is that unreasonable, and I think that we've seen this so many times before: that proxy wars of different interests from the region, from the Middle East and beyond, could prolong the war in Syria for decades to come.

I think that's not something that we should forget. Syria is really ripe for proxy armed conflicts, and when you think about the overall Middle East power struggles, Syria provides that fertile ground to fight those interests and with that point, I think Erdogan is right, I think we should be really careful about how to build overall political relations for Syria.

Sputnik: The Turkish leader has also mentioned on several occasions the need to create a new stabilization force in Syria, do you think this is at all possible?

Alpaslan Ozerdem: The stabilisation force idea is difficult to achieve, especially in terms of pulling (forming) that stabilisation force from the military groups within Syria.

What Erdogan said in that op-ed that as long as they are not terrorists: in the context of Syrian armed conflict, that's going to be really difficult to verify = who is and who is not in a sense that, even the YPG is considered a terrorist (group) by Turkey, so I think it's really not clear in terms of what they're trying to achieve.

READ MORE: Turkey Could Start Anti-PKK Operation in Iraq's Qandil Mountains Soon — Minister

We might think about some alternatives here, so the international community can think of deployment of a multinational force, say from NATO or perhaps the United Nations, if there is a political will, or the US may want to deploy some of its allies from the Middle East, Egypt or the United Arab Emirates.

I don't think Turkey will be very happy with those troops being just on the other side of its border. So the stabilisation force is an idea that I think is attractive, but what it will constitute and how it will be made up I think that's going to be the sticking point.

Sputnik: Mike Pompeo is on an Arab tour and he's aiming to reassure allies of US commitments amid the troop withdrawal decision. What kind of atmosphere is going to be dominant during this tour, do you think he is likely to succeed? And what kind of a position does the US move really put its Arab allies in?

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Alpaslan Ozerdem: I think the damage is already done, considering that all though the US administration says that the US has consulted its Middle Eastern allies before announcing the withdrawal decision and everything, but the reality is that I don't think that has really happened.

In that way, the crucial point here is that reassuring allies in the context of the Middle East is really a mission impossible because it's such a complex situation. I think Pompeo going to these Arab capitals shows a good sign of acting like an ally and informing them.

Probably he'll be saying: 'Look guys our President can make a decision in the spur of the moment, say we are out of Syria, but at least there are others in the administration who are prepared to sort out his mess'. I think that's what he'll be doing in the Middle East.

*Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State/IS), a terrorist group banned in Russia and a wide number of other countries.

The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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