Conflict in Syria becoming strategic threat to Turkey, McCain says
US Senator John McCain has claimed that the current situation in Syria, due to the threat it poses to Turkey, has created an atmosphere calling for more active cooperation between Turkey and the US, saying that US President Barack Obama's passive stance on the Syrian issue may undermine strategic ally Turkey.
Speaking at the 3rd Annual Conference on Turkey at Washington's Middle East Institute on Wednesday, McCain noted that “the situation in Syria cries out for US leadership, not just to save Syrian lives, but to support our ally, Turkey, when they need our support the most.” Syria's downing of a Turkish reconnaissance jet has been perceived in Turkish political circles as a sign that the Syrian regime is sliding further into irrationality by the day and has transformed the Syrian crisis into a bilateral problem between neighbors Turkey and Syria.
A Turkish jet was shot down by Syrian forces while flying solo and unarmed 13 miles off the coast of Syria in international airspace last Friday. However, Syria maintains the aircraft was in Syrian airspace when it was shot down. Syria, which joined in Turkish efforts to locate the wreckage and pilots, earlier claimed that it handed the tail section of the plane over to Turkey and that it bears visible bullet holes, evidence that it was shot down by short-range weapons and thus in Syrian airspace.
The Republican senator also noted that the refugee flow into the southern provinces of Turkey will increase as the conflict in Syria continues. He also expressed dissatisfaction that a NATO initiative could not be formulated to intervene in the Syrian situation.
“And the longer this conflict grinds on, the worse it gets -- the more sectarian divisions harden, the more al-Qaeda gains influence, the more the Syrian state disintegrates and the more Turkey is faced with violent chaos on its border,” McCain remarked.
McCain emphasized the importance of more comprehensive and active cooperation with Turkey. “America does not fear the growth of Turkish power, nor do we seek to limit it. To the contrary, we have a major stake in Turkey's success, and we want to enhance it -- politically, economically, and yes, militarily. A more capable, more active and more influential Turkey with which we share values is a net benefit to America's national interests, and both of our countries need to invest more ambitiously in this relationship, just as the United States and India have done with each other,” he stated.
Francis Ricciardone, US ambassador in Ankara, has commented on enduring US support for Turkey as an ally, friend and partner on the Syrian issue. During a visit to Mersin Governor Hasan Basri Güzeloğlu, the US ambassador noted that the saddening and unacceptable situation in Syria must come to an end, with the combined efforts of Turkey, the US and the international community.
Turkish officials echoed McCain's statements at the conference. Turkey's US Ambassador Namık Tan maintained that Turkey is starting to regard Syria as a visible threat and will respond to the attack within the framework of international law. Tan also stated that the Syrian regime is carrying out a campaign of misinformation to distort the facts and escape responsibility for hitting an unarmed Turkish plane in international airspace.
Additionally, İbrahim Kalın, chief adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called Syria's attack on the Turkish plane a violation of international law, while stressing that Turkey has no intention of escalating tensions with Syria, speaking by video-link during the conference.