In recent months, Turkish statements have become increasingly frequent about the possibility of restoring relations between Turkey and the Syrian regime. The latest instance was the statements by Turkish officials that Hakan Fidan, the head of the Turkish intelligence service, had visited Damascus, where he met with Ali Mamlouk, director of the Syrian National Security office.
Despite repeated talk of Russian pressure on Turkey to hold meetings with Assad, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that there are no preconditions for his country to enter dialogue with the regime. He added that the Turkish visit to Damascus concerned intelligence matters only. Neither the United States nor the European Union recorded any clear position on the change in Turkish policy.
Western silence on the growth of Turkish statements and moves towards the regime opens the door to questions about the cause of this silence. This becomes relevant in light of previous US and EU disapproval towards efforts by any government that has tended to normalize relations with the regime — most notably, the United Arab Emirates.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Sam Heller, a researcher at the International Crisis Group who specializes in Syria, argued that there is some reluctance to criticize Turkey directly — both from the Americans and Europeans — about communicating with the regime for two reasons.
First, Heller explained that Ankara has not done anything concrete so far, as everything that has happened to date is considered just “speeches.” Second, he believes that bilateral relations between the United States and Turkey are important and complex at the same time.
On August 25th, a State Department spokesperson said: “Turkey is an important NATO ally and has played a key role in continuing to hold Russia responsible for its atrocities in Ukraine. To be clear, however, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize relations with or rehabilitate the image of Bashar al-Assad.
Responding to a question from reporters about the U.S. position on Turkish officials’ hints of reconciliation with Damascus, the Spokesperson noted that the United States “urges the countries of the region to look very carefully at the atrocities committed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people over the past decade, as well as the regime’s ongoing efforts to stop many parts of the country from accessing humanitarian aid.”
Not enough indicators to take a position
For his part, political researcher Abdul Wahab Assi considered that the West’s failure to express any official position on Turkey’s new policy is due to the lack of sufficient indicators to determine the context of this trend and its results. According to Assi, silence does not mean acceptance of Turkey’s steps.
Speaking to Enab Baladi, Assi added that the official position of the West — whether the European Union or the United States — is based on rejecting the steps of renormalization and breaking the regime’s isolation. This position has obstructed joint Arab normalization and emptied bilateral normalization processes of their usefulness — whether through the threat of economic sanctions or the non-financing of reconstruction processes.
Assi believes that the indicators that could push the West to take a clear position on Turkey’s steps are the renormalization of diplomatic relations with the regime or Turkey’s sponsorship of meetings between the opposition and the regime in regime-controlled areas.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.