Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has given a green light to Bashar al-Assad remaining in a transitional government in Syria for a peace settlement, in a major shift in Turkey’s Syria policy.
“The most important priority for us is to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible,” Yıldırım said at a press conference in Istanbul on Aug. 20, later adding that the rest amounted to irrelevant “details.” He also said that the U.S. and Russia agree that al-Assad cannot hold Syria together in the long run but he could be considered for the transition. Upon a question, Yıldırım said Turkey’s deal with Russia to normalize relations had an “important share” in this policy shift.
It was first Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş who signaled a turn in Turkey’s much-debated Syria policy. In his words published in the Hürriyet Daily News on Aug. 19, Kurtulmuş said many of Turkey’s sufferings today were a result of its Syria policy. He added that he wished a viable perspective for peace could have been produced before now, but Turkey had failed to do that as had many other countries.
PM Yıldırım said Turkey would “be more active over the next six months,” and Turkey has already stepped up its activities in the region within the framework of this new approach. A working group was established with Moscow on Syria right after President Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Russia, during which he met Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Aug. 9. Two days after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had a stopover in Tehran on Aug. 19 en route to India to meet Zarif again, (nobody trusts phone lines nowadays because of eavesdropping). Yıldırım has suggested that Turkey could contribute to a solution in Syria together with the U.S., Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others. “We are not pessimistic,” he stressed.