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A Phobia Is Not a Policy

A Phobia Is Not a Policy

Washington’s Syria envoy Jim Jeffrey has indicated openly that the U.S. wants the Astana peace process for Syria – which was initiated last year by Turkey, Russia, and Iran – to end. According to Jeffrey, who was speaking during a Dec. 3 briefing in Washington  this process has failed to advance efforts to establish a Syrian Constitutional Committee.

Jeffrey, who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, added that Washington would propose ending the competitor to the Geneva talks when U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura departs at the end of the year.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who characterized Jeffrey’s remarks as “unfortunate,” reminded that the Astana process was the result of the fact that nothing was happening under the U.N.’s Geneva process.

Cavusoglu has a point, of course. If results had been obtained in Geneva, then there would not have been a need for the “alternative but parallel” Astana track.

That, however, is a moot point at this stage. What Jeffrey is pointing to ties in with recent statements from the American side that have raised eyebrows in Ankara. Washington has made it clear that it wants special representation in any Syrian settlement for the lands currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the north of the country.

Turkey’s reading of this is that the U.S. is trying to set up an autonomous or semiautonomous entity in the region with will be run by the Kurdish YPG, which Ankara says is a terrorist organization allied to the outlawed PKK.
The SDF, a group set up by the U.S. is comprised mainly of YPG fighters, even though it has fighters from other ethnic groups in its ranks. Turkey has vowed to eradicate its border region from the YPG.

In response to Ankara’s threats aimed at the YPG Washington recently announced it would be setting up military “observation posts” along the Turkish border. These will – ostensibly – be set up “to protect Turkey” from attacks, but more convincingly, at least according to Ankara, their aim will be to protect the YPG from Turkish attacks.

Jeffrey’s remarks have merely compounded this belief. More importantly though, it suggests Washington has a plan involving the Kurds, which also entails keeping a U.S. military presence in northern Syria for the foreseeable future.

This is why the U.S. wants to speed up the work on a new constitutional framework for Syria that will also include a region, whatever name it is ultimately given, which is essentially Kurdish.

What makes life more difficult for Turkey is that Russia also believes that the Kurds should have a say in the constitutional process. Moscow’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev made this clear at the end of November, during a press conference  he held after the last round of technical talks under the Astana process on the new Syria constitution.

Lavrentiev indicated that the Kurds represented nearly 10 percent of the Syrian population and therefore had a right to participate in the political process.

These are not things Ankara wants to hear. Turkey is not against Kurdish participation in the political process in principal, but wants to closely vet which Kurds are allowed to do so. That is unlikely to wash with Washington or Moscow once the constitutional debate gains steam.

The bottom line is that every country involved in Syria, and particularly those that will ultimately be providing the shape of things to come, has a “Kurdish policy,” with the exception of Turkey.

Unless Ankara transforms its approach to this issue from a “phobia” into a “policy” it is likely to face more disappointments down the road.

About The Author

Semih Idiz

Started journalism career in Economic Press Agency in Ankara, and later worked in the Anatolian News Agency, Cumhuriyet daily, Turkish Daily News, NTV news channel, daily Star, daily Aksam, CNN Turk, and daily Milliyet. Currently writes for Al Monitor and Hurriyet Daily News. He has had articles, commentary and analyses published in the Financial Times, the Times, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy. He has also been a frequent contributor to local news channels as well as to BBC World, CNN, VOA, NPR, Radio New Zealand, Deutche Welle, various Israeli media organizations, Al Jazeera etc. as a foreign policy expert.

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