Turkey signals intention to normalize ties with Syria

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

Turkey’s new prime minister is good at making jokes during his speeches. And his new policy shift regarding Syria sounds like one. But it is not.

Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday that Turkey is prepared to normalize relations with Syria, Ankara’s chief nemesis, as an essential step to defeat ¨terrorism¨. The remarks by the Turkish leader illustrates a complete U-turn in the country’s long-running policy to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since the civil war erupted in Syria five years ago, Turkey has done whatever it takes to support Syrian rebels, allowing foreign fighters to use the Turkish territory as a springboard to join the anti-regime forces and helped funnel money and arms through the long and porous Turkish Syrian border.

¨We will widen the circle of friendship both at home and abroad,¨ Yildirim told members of his ruling party AKP in Ankara. ¨We have started doing this abroad. We normalized our relations with Israel and Russia. But I am sure we will return to normal ties with Syria, too. We need this.¨ Yildirim continued.

It was not clear if Ankara and Damascus are bracing to establish contacts or if the statement was a wishful thinking from the Turkish side. Last week, Yildirim said the normalization of relations with Syria will only be possible after the Assad regime leaves.

After six years of blistering attacks on Israel, Turkey could find a room to deal with the Jewish state. But Turkish-Syrian confrontation is existential: Ankara openly declares that its ultimate goal is to topple Assad.

In Baku, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia will open up more effective means to find a settlement to the crisis in Syria, signaling that Moscow and Ankara may cooperate with a condition that Assad stays in power.

Erdogan has spent five years of his 13-year rule to topple the Syrian president. But Iran and Russia’s backing of the Syrian regime turned out to be a lifeline for a leader who has become an international pariah. Turkey’s efforts to facilitate Syrian rebel groups with arms and fighters in fight against the Syrian regime constantly fed radical Islamist groups who had been seeking to establish their own statelets rather than targeting the Syrian regime.

Turkey has been under fire for failing to identify its priorities in Syria, unable to determine which militant groups pose a bigger threat to the country. While the Western nations are focused on battling the Islamic State, Ankara says Assad is a magnet for foreign fighters and view Syrian Kurdish militants as more dangerous to Turkey’s security.

¨Syria and Iraq need to achieve stability for the success of the anti-terror fight.¨ the Turkish prime minister said on Wednesday.