Turkey not yet ready to allow Syrian opposition to open embassy

The head of the Syrian opposition forces, Mouaz al-Khatib (L), and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah (R) cut the ribbon at the opening of the Syrian interim government's first embassy, in Doha, on March 27. (Photo: EPA)

April 05, 2013, Friday/ 17:06:00

Turkey, the strongest supporter of the Syrian opposition, is not yet at a point to allow an embassy to be opened in Ankara by the Syrian opposition coalition, which recently opened an embassy in Qatar, say Turkish diplomatic sources.

“Turkey is not at a point to enable the Syrian opposition to open an embassy for many reasons. But this is an issue that we are evaluating. At this stage, we are not in the position of Qatar, which took such a step,” a senior Turkish diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Today's Zaman.

In a diplomatic blow to the Syrian regime, the opposition opened its first embassy in Qatar a day after opponents of embattled President Bashar al-Assad were given Damascus's seat at the Arab League during a summit that took place in late March.

“Turkey is acting in accordance with the current developments. It would not be accurate to question why there is no such embassy. We are trying to take the most accurate and useful step for the Syrian people. What kind of benefits will such a step bring? We are evaluating all these questions,” said the same diplomat, adding that Turkey has close relations with the Syrian opposition coalition.

The coalition has named ambassadors in several countries, including Britain, France, Libya and Qatar.

“Beside these four countries, the Syrian opposition coalition only has representatives, not ambassadors, in other countries. We are also expecting the Arab League to give an ambassador status to the coalition,” Khaled Khoja, the representative of the Syrian opposition coalition in Turkey, told Today's Zaman.

Although the coalition has an embassy building in Qatar, it has yet to open diplomatic missions in countries in which it has ambassadors such as Britain, France and Libya. The embassy in Qatar was inaugurated while the original Syrian Embassy in Doha remains closed.

When asked whether the coalition has requested Turkey to allow it to open an embassy, Khoja replied that Turkey's position was clear in that Ankara would not do so or accept an ambassador until the UN gives a seat to the Syrian opposition coalition and recognizes it as the legitimate alternative of the Syrian regime.

“Enabling the opposition to open an embassy is not a legal step but a political one. Turkey does not want to take a step that would not be legal. Washington is also in the same position as Turkey. Turkey and the other countries will take this step when the UN gives the seat of the Syrian regime to the Syrian coalition because without UN recognition, such steps would not be legal,” said Khoja.

The Syrian opposition also wants to assume Syria's seat at the UN and has called on the UN and other international bodies to take steps similar to that of the Arab League, which suspended Syria in November 2011 and gave its seat to the opposition in late March.

Iran and Russia, the two staunchest allies of the Syrian regime, criticized the Arab League's decision to award Syria's seat at the organization to the coalition, saying the decision was "illegal and indefensible."

Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), opposes any attempt to seat the Syrian opposition as the representative of Damascus in the UN.

According to experts, Turkey would not give an embassy until the coalition gains a state structure and comes to power in Syria.

Atilla Sandıklı, the head of the İstanbul-based Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), stated that the Syrian opposition is in the process of unification, adding that it has not yet come to a point where it is an alternative to the regime in terms of state structure. “Turkey is aware of this situation and is doubtful as the opposition has not yet achieved a state-like structure. Therefore, it is waiting the opposition to achieve this structure to give an embassy and receive an ambassador,” said Sandıklı.

There are three reasons behind Turkey's hesitation, said Sandıklı. “The first reason is due to Turkey's state principle. Second is that Turkey wants the opposition to unify and form a structure that would be an alternative to Assad. Lastly, Turkey wants to act in accordance with Western countries on this issue,” Sandıklı told Today's Zaman.

Echoing Sandıklı, Süleyman Şensoy, the head of the Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM), stated that to have a diplomatic mission, the opposition should take power in Syria. “Unless the opposition legitimately comes to power in Syria, this issue would remain unclear and Turkey would not give an embassy,” said Şensoy.

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