Akar’s meeting with Syrian counterpart a sign that ground offensive suspended - analyst
The good news coming in from the Wednesday’s Moscow meeting between Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Syrian counterpart Mahmoud Ali Abbas is that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in the near future will be able to pray in the Umayyad Mosque of Syria’s capital Damascus as he promised, Turkish journalist and analyst Murat Yetkin said. But with a slight difference: He will not be there as the guest of the rebel forces who toppled the Assad government, but as the guest of President Bashar al Assad himself.
The bitter irony stems from a months-long quest from the Turkish government to start dialogue with the Syrian regime, after supporting the Syrian opposition in the 11 year civil war.
Yetkin said the meeting between the defense ministers was the first concrete step in this quest.
“Next is the meeting of the foreign ministers, and then, if things go well, the presidents” Yetkin said.
Citing anonymous sources, Yetkin said the meeting focused on three topics, which were “fight with the opposition, immigrants problem, and the ‘extremist groups.’”
Sources told Yetkin that the sides did not start negotiating, but only expressed their positions on these topics.
According to Yetkin, Erdogan aims to achieve his goal of sending some of the Syrian immigrants back to their country, even a symbolic number, before next year’s elections. He said Moscow is aware of this, and wants to strengthen Erdogan’s hand, even after Assad made clear he did not want to give Erdogan an election gift.
OPERATION SUSPENDED, DIPLOMACY ACTIVE
One other strategic issue for both Ankara and Damascus is the “fight against terrorism,” Yetkin said.
The most important thing for Ankara is border security and the absence of a PKK-led and US-backed Kurdish state on the Syrian side of its borders, while for Damascus, the most important points are Salafi jihadists among Turkey-backed groups organised under the Syrian National Army (former FSA) and the military presence of Turkey in Syrian territory.
“As Russia is involved as a mediator, the common denominator is the unease caused by the presence of the United States in Syria,” Yetkin said.
Akar’s answer to a question in an early press briefing showed the ground offensive is on hold, according to Yetkin.
We will talk, we will meet. We will try to resolve things in a reasonable and logical way. It’s fine if it happens. But if it doesn’t happen, then we’ll make our own decision,” he said during a press conference on December 24.
“After the Turkey-Syria-Russia meeting, the situation is as follows: first, wait for the diplomacy to yield results, but in the meantime, the operation will be kept on the table in case of a PKK/YPG attack. In other words, the operation is suspended unless the PKK attacks,” Yetkin said.