Turkey Holds 'Trump Card' in Negotiations Over US Pull Out From Syria – Scholar

© AP Photo / APTVThis Saturday, April. 29, 2017 still taken from video, shows an American soldier standing on an armored vehicle in the northern village of Darbasiyah, Syria. U.S
This Saturday, April. 29, 2017 still taken from video, shows an American soldier standing on an armored vehicle in the northern village of Darbasiyah, Syria. U.S - Sputnik International
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan skipped a meeting with US National Security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday after calling Bolton's demands with respect to Turkish military activity in Syria "a serious mistake". Bolton had insisted that US forces would remain in Syria until Turkey agrees not to attack the Kurdish forces there.

Media reports suggested that the top adviser to US President Donald Trump had hoped to reach a consensus with Ankara over a roadmap for a US troop withdrawal. He has met with his Turkish counterpart, national security adviser Ibrahim Kalin, as well as the deputy defence and foreign ministers. Bolton reportedly presented a document listing the terms of US military pull out in a "deliberate, orderly, and timely manner".

READ MORE: Scholar Doubts US Will Withdraw All Forces From Syria' in 3-4 Years

According to the paper, the US will keep some troops at the al-Tanf US garrison near the Jordanian and Iraqi border and would help secure the airspace over northeast Syria. He added that the United States wanted "the protection of all civilians, particularly local minority populations".

Sputnik discussed Turkey's negotiations with the United States over Syria with Jana Jabbour, a Professor of Political Science and expert on Turkey and the Middle East.

Sputnik: Turkey's foreign minister has just called for joint control with Russia and Iran of the US exit from Syria. What do you think of this, and do you think Washington will approve of this initiative?

Prof. Jana Jabbour: Yes, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, despite having opposite positions on the Syrian regime and on Bashar al-Assad, actually agree on one thing: which is that the solution to the Syria crisis should be a regional solution, a solution that is designed by them, and not an international solution that would be parachuted by the West. On the other hand, Trump is engaged in very pragmatic policies there in Syria. He actually wants to pull out from the Middle East and to sub-contract the Middle East crises, in particular, the Syria crisis, to the regional powers in place. However, the problem is that while Trump is very eager that Turkey and Russia take this into their hands, others in the administration, mainly the State Department and Pentagon, are more cautious and sceptical. So the problem today is that the American administration is very split over what to do in Syria and whether to accept or not to accept. So if it were [up to] President Trump, he would accept that Russia and Turkey take over… but in reality, the decision is much more complicated because the Pentagon and the State Department have other preferences.

READ MORE: Turkey Calls for Joint Control With Russia and Iran of US Exit From Syria

Sputnik: Let's look at John Bolton's trip to Turkey. How would you assess it and how high are the chances these two countries could come to some sort of a compromise? Because, of course, ahead of that visit, the Turkish side was adamant that it would not compromise on certain issues.

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Prof. Jana Jabbour: In fact, I think that Bolton's trip to Turkey was an unsuccessful trip in the sense that nothing has been really agreed upon between Washington and Ankara. And actually finding a compromise is very difficult for two reasons. First of all, because there is a major disagreement between Ankara and Washington today, which stems from the fact that the groups that Turks view as their enemies are actually the allies and the best friends of the United States. So, would the United States actually completely abandon the Kurds to please Ankara? That is highly unlikely. And the second reason which makes finding a compromise very difficult is that one of the parties, namely the United States, doesn't have a clear position because the United States administration is itself split between the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, etc. So how can you actually find a compromise and how can you negotiate when one of the negotiating partners has not yet defined its [position yet]?

Sputnik: Of course, President Erdogan has been saying, demanding really, that the US throughout its pull out hand its military bases to Turkey. How likely do you think Washington is to agree to this?

Prof. Jana Jabbour: Well, if Washington is serious about pulling its troops out of Syria, this cannot be achieved without the agreement with Turkey since it is because Washington needs Turkey's help to continue the fight against ISIS*. And it is impossible for Washington to secure Turkey's assistance and Turkey's help against ISIS without making Ankara a concession, namely giving Ankara a green light to secure the Turkish border and to carry out a military operation against YPG and the PYD. So, in a certain sense, Turkey still holds a trump card in the negotiations over the US pull out from Syria. Turkey is a strong negotiating partner because the American administration really needs it to subcontract the Syria crisis and the fight against ISIS.

READ MORE: Russian Deputy FM Explains Why Moscow Doubts Full US Withdrawal From Syria

Sputnik: Of course, Turkey's Incirlik Air Base is home of the 49th Air Base wing of the US Air Force and it is strategically very important in terms of the US presence in the Middle East and it is Turkey's trump card really in relations with the US. So what is going to happen in that respect?

Prof Jana Jabbour: Well, I think that it is very likely that a compromise would not be achieved and that Ankara would launch a military offensive against the Kurds without US approval. And Erdogan and his spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin have already announced that they would carry out a military operation without Washington's authorisation. And, in fact, the prospect of carrying out a military operation in Syria has to be understood in light of internal politics in Turkey.

*Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS) is a terrorist organisation, banned in Russia

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


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