Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Turkey and the US have an alternative option, a Plan B, if the upcoming Geneva meeting fails to provide a viable political solution to the two-year-old Syrian conflict.
Speaking to a group of Turkish reporters on Friday, Davutoğlu talked about the recent developments in Syria at a time when Ankara faces a great number of challenges with regard to the intractable crisis in the Middle Eastern country.
Denying criticism suggesting that Turkey -- which had faced accusations of favoring military option, an intervention in Syria by domestic criticis -- has shifted its Syria policy and has been forced to back initiatives for a diplomatic solution as result of strong pressure from the US and Russia, Davutoğlu said Turkey has always backed a diplomatic solution, adding that while other countries described the Bashar al-Assad regime as illegitimate from the very beginning, Turkey has struggled to persuade Assad to adopt a political solution for nine months.
Noting that Turkey has always been involved in diplomatic initiatives and efforts, Davutoğlu asserted that Ankara is in contact with Iran, Russia and Arab and Western countries, working on formulas which contemplate the political future of Syria with or without Assad.
He stated that the formulas to be discussed in the second Geneva meeting were shaped during those diplomatic efforts and Ankara also contributed to their content.
Expressing his hopes ahead of the Geneva meeting, Davutoğlu said Ankara and Washington synchronized their approach on Syria during the meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on May 16.
He, however, declined to elaborate on the details of a strategy, the Plan B, which has been developed by Turkey and the US as an alternative policy in case of a failure in the Geneva II conference.
Regarding the recent diplomatic efforts ahead of the conference, Davutoğlu said 11 countries, including Turkey, agreed on a common policy on May 22 during the Friends of Syria alliance meeting in Amman that envisions the exclusion of Assad in the formation of a new transitional government that will bring in elements of the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition at the same time.
According to the proposal on which the countries agreed at the meeting in Amman, all powers and rights in the new transitional government should be transferred to those who “don't have blood on their hands.”
Davutoğlu, however, said if this formula, backed by Turkey for an enduring political solution, fails in the upcoming Geneva meeting, the type of support the 11 countries provide to the Syrian opposition will change, hinting that the international backers of Syrian National Council (SNC) would consider openly arming the opposition.
The Turkish foreign minister also said the EU is expected to lift its arms embargo on opposition forces in a meeting of foreign ministers that is scheduled to take place on Monday. Davutoğlu will also attend the meeting.
Defending what he called a humanist and ethics-oriented stance of Turkey regarding the intractable Syrian conflict, the Turkish foreign minister identified three categories of states, based on their response to the conflict.
“The first group involves states which conspicuously and persistently back the Assad regime. These kind of states, which do not welcome democracy in their political systems, see Syria at the core of their regional policies and therefore do their utmost to keep the Baath regime in power,” Davutoğlu said.
“The second group includes Western countries that are engaged in inconsistent policies regarding the Syrian crisis,” the foreign minister said, lamenting the fact that the Western world has remained “indifferent” to the ongoing bloodshed in the war-torn country although it had declared the Assad regime illegitimate from the very beginning of the conflict.
Davutoğlu stated that Turkey and the Arab League fit to a third category in which countries stand along with the Syrian people and become increasingly involved in the crisis, developing policies based on the fast-moving changes on the ground.
'Standing by Assad would be historic mistake for Turkey'
He argued that if Turkey did not have an ethics-based standing and instead stood by the Assad regime, it would have been a historic mistake for Turkey and would have set a bad example, as was the case with Turkish foreign policy during the Algerian war of independence against France in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Turkey later offered its apology to Algeria for standing with France during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).
"Tomorrow we won't be able to walk on the streets of Aleppo and Cairo if we stand by the Assad regime," the Turkish foreign minister said.
Davutoğlu also rejected charges of “backing the wrong horse” in the Syria crisis, deeming such criticism itself unethical.
When asked about whether there has been a major failure in Turkish foreign policy regarding the prolonged Syrian crisis, Davutoğlu expressed his dismay, saying that Turkey failed to predict the scale of violence that the Syrian regime and Assad could execute against their own people.
“We couldn't know how barbarian Assad would become, acting differently from what his usual character suggested him to be,” he told the reporters. “His mother has a great influence over Assad. She always reminds him of his father's handling of the Hama.”
"He was normally kind and cool when we met with him. But whenever he visits his mother, who lives in Dubai, he totally changes and becomes unrecognizable."
“We didn't expect that those countries which rushed to declare the Assad regime illegitimate when the uprising began could be so indifferent to the ongoing conflict,” said Davutoğlu, expressing his frustration over the inaction of the international community.
“Turkey has failed to see that some countries would zigzag during the Syrian uprising as happened in the Bosnian crisis,” he said in an indirect reference to Western powers.
He also lamented that designating use of chemical weapons as a “red line” gave a green light to Assad in using any conventional weapons and employing military methods rather than using the chemical weapons.
In addition, another major mistake, Davutoğlu said, has been the failure to see how susceptible and prone the Turkish public is to the “manipulative propaganda originating in the East,” in an implicit reference to the Iranian influence over some Turkish media outlets.
'Iran, Hezbollah involved in fighting'
As news reports suggest the increasing presence of Iranian military officials and Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian conflict, Davutoğlu said the two actors have been involved in the battlefield since March in an act of solidarity with the embattled Assad regime.
Currently, some 2,000 Hezbollah fighters are engaged in heavy clashes around the town of Qusayr, a scene of armed skirmishes between the opposition forces and Assad troops, Davutoğlu said.
He portrayed the new development as an attempt to tip the balance on the battleground in favor of the Assad regime in order to push the sides to accept a solution that leaves Assad in power.
‘West's denial of military support to FSA contributed to al-Nusra's growing clout'
The Turkish foreign minister also touched upon the radical opposition al-Nusra Front, which currently appears to be the most coherent and capable militant forces among the fractured and disparate opposition fighters at a critical time as forces loyal to Assad seems to have appeared ascendant on battlefield over the past two months.
The al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US and is seen as a primary factor for the West's reluctance to arm the opposition forces. The West is apparently uneasy with the growing presence of radical elements on the ground.
According to Davutoğlu, the chief cause of al-Nusra's ascendancy among opposition forces is the approach of the West towards the Syrian opposition fighters. He stressed the fact that the denial of military assistance to the moderate groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) led by Gen. Salim İdris has fuelled the support to Nusra-like units.
Davutoğlu further stated that designating the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group produced the opposite of the desired effect and contributed to its growing presence. "While there were approximately 600 fighters within the group, this number skyrocketed to nearly 6,000 fighters after designating al-Nusra as a terrorist organization."
He said Turkey considers all al-Qaeda-like radical groups in the same vein and opposes them in Syria, adding, however, that Ankara views the al-Nusra factor not as a cause but as an effect and consequence of what the Assad regime has done in Syria. Davutoğlu pointed out that he urged the US officials in the meeting in Washington also to focus on the conditions that created al-Nusra, rather than only being concerned about the group itself.
Davutoğlu also denied claims of Turkey's military assistance and supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition, saying that those who always question Ankara's position must closely look at what others are doing on ground.
He said Turkey has spent $1 billion so far as part of the humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees, including the aid sent to Syria.