Turkey signals to US, may go ahead ‘solo' with safety zones in Syria

President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are seen together with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Tarabya Palace in İstanbul. (Photo: AA)

August 12, 2012, Sunday/ 17:16:00

While NATO allies Turkey and the US have started synchronizing their contingency operation plans for Syria amid the influx of thousands of refugees into Turkey in recent days, Turkey has made it clear that it will go ahead with setting up “safety zone” pockets inside Syrian territory to handle the mounting humanitarian crisis.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Sunday, diplomatic officials drew a picture of a two-stage plan for Turkey to handle the mass exodus from Syria, underlining that the issue may have already become a “significant national security threat” for Turkey. According to officials who asked for their names to be withheld, Turkey, in coordination with the US and other allies, will press for a UN Security Council resolution mandating the establishment of “protective enclaves” within Syria so that potential refugees will be taken care of inside Syria. This will be complemented by military measures that may include a no-fly zone and restriction of troop movements loyal to the embattled leader of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, in areas close to the border.

Since the border is 900 kilometers long, the idea is to set up pockets of “safety zones” or “enclaves” in residential areas close to the Turkish border.

If the UN mandate fails under the veto powers of Russia and/or China, Turkish diplomats say Ankara will go ahead with its own planning anyway, backed by Western and Arab allies. “Threat is not limited to a military nature. If refugees flood into Turkey in hundreds of thousands, then it will become a national security risk threatening Turkey. It all depends on how events unfold in Syria,” officials said. Turkey has so far declined to provide exact figure of refugees that will prompt Ankara to start military intervention for humanitarian purposes.

Officials underscored that “a new stage” has begun in Syria, adding that American involvement in Syria will become more visible in the upcoming weeks. They said the visit of US Secretary Hillary Clinton focused on a number of issues and both side exchanged their view on Syria. Both Turkey and the US have agreed that state institutions will remain intact in the post-Assad era, preventing a power vacuum in Turkey's southern neighbor.

During a visit to Turkey on Saturday, Clinton said that Turkey and the US are to take all kinds of issues, including a no-fly zone, into account to stop the bloodshed in Syria before the Assad regime steps aside and help Syrians establish democracy and pluralism in the country after.

“… our goal, number one, is to hasten the end of the bloodshed … And then, of course, we want to be good partners in helping the Syrian people build the kind of democratic, pluralistic society and government that will respect human rights and restore a better future,” Clinton said during the press conference held with her Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu after they discussed the ongoing 17 month-old Syrian crisis in İstanbul.

Emphasizing the international community headed by the US and Turkey must analyze everything and take measures towards their strategic goal, Clinton stressed the importance of intensive operational planning they discussed and underlined the need of getting into the real details of that.

“Our intelligence services, our military, have very important responsibilities and roles to play. So we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that,” Clinton noted.

In sight of Damascus' warning that the country's chemical weapons stocks are secure and would be used in the case of a foreign attack, Clinton said, “Both the minister [Davutoğlu] and I saw eye to eye on ... the kinds of contingencies that we have to plan for, including ... [if] chemical weapons are used, which everyone has made it clear to the Syrian regime that it is a red line for the world ... and of course, what needs to be done to secure those stocks from ever being used, or from falling into the wrong hands.”

Agreeing with Clinton over the recent developments in Syria, Davutoğlu urged the international community to put their efforts together to contribute to the peace-building process in the Middle East, despite the failure of UN envoy Kofi Annan's diplomatic efforts in the region.

Going into details of the developments in Syria and evaluating the situation on the ground Davutoğlu said the transition process in Syria needs to be completed as soon as possible. “And there should be no room for a power vacuum in the transition process, because terrorist organizations like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will try to benefit from a possible power vacuum. That is why we need to take joint efforts in order to prevent the power vacuum from being formed,” Davutoğlu noted.

Remarking the regular influx of Syrian refugees across the Turkish-Syrian borderline Davutoğlu noted that Turkey will always embrace its Syrian brothers and sisters adding, “We [Turkey] have been mobilizing our resources in order to help them [Syrians] as much as we can.”

There are more than 55,000 refugees in Turkey and each and every day at least 3,000 Syrians are entering Turkey.

“But this increasing number of refugees is a clear indicator of the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria. And we expect broader collaboration on the part of the international community in order to resolve this issue,” said Davutoğlu expressing Turkey's concerns for the increasing bloodshed and escalating violence in Syria calling on world leaders to take decisive steps in order to stop the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Syria.

Clinton thanked Ankara and Turkish people for their hospitality towards the Syrians who are fleeing to Turkey for their safety.

US reiterate its strong support for Turkish ally against the PKK

Reminded about the recent violent developments following the potential presence of the terrorist PKK group in the northern parts of Syria, which has made Turkish people and government quite troubled and asked about whether the US is concerned about the recent revival of the PKK in its ally's backyard, Clinton reiterated what she said during her visit to İstanbul to attend the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) on June 7.

“Regarding the PKK, let me just underscore that the United States remains strongly committed to the defense of our Turkish ally,” Clinton said, which did not provide much more insight than her views stated during the İstanbul GCTF.

“The United States strongly stands with Turkey in its fight against the PKK and other groups,” Clinton said during the GCTF on June 7 addressing the conflict in Turkey that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Starting her speech with condolences for the killed Turkish soldiers during the recent PKK attacks and commenting on the enhanced terrorist activities in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, Clinton expressed her worries about the power vacuum that has developed due to the brutal regime crack down on the innocent people of Syria.

“We worry about terrorists, the PKK, al-Qaeda and others taking advantage of the legitimate fight of the Syrian people for their freedom by using Syria to promote their own agendas, and even to perhaps find footholds to launch attacks against others,” Clinton concluded emphasizing the US will continue to support Turkey in its fight against terrorism.

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