The Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a recent teleconference on “Changing Dynamics: What’s next for Syria?” with Former Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, President of the Syrian American Council, Dr. Zaki Lababidi, and Associate Professor at Istinye University Aylin Unver Noi.
Ambassador Robert Ford began the discussion by focusing on the recent U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. According to Ambassador Ford, the way in which the U.S. troop withdrawal was announced and carried out was a mistake. It surprised many of our allies on the ground and displayed the confusion within the administration. He stated that the current U.S. policy is still confused and “it is not sustainable over the long-term.” Ambassador Ford also spoke on where the U.S. currently stands in regard to Syria. He stated that the U.S. government is not going to pursue a regime change in Syria, and instead will continue to focus on economic pressures against the current regime, such as sanctions. The U.S. stands by the current Syrian constitutional reforms talks in Geneva and has always wanted U.N. sponsored peace negotiations. Additionally, he commented that Turkey and the U.S. might take similar positions on the constitutional reforms talks, but it is unlikely they will collaborate any further. He stressed that the two countries need to recognize how deep the crisis is between Turkey and the U.S.
Next, Aylin Unver Noi, discussed Turkey’s perspective on the recent changes in Syria. She first commented on the recent collaboration with Turkey and Russia on joint patrols in the area. Aylin Unver Noi stated that we may potentially see more collaboration between the two states because they have a shared interest in the northeastern part of Syria. Russia does not support any separatist groups in the region and recognizes that Turkey does have legitimate national security concerns that should be addressed. Due to this, both Russia and Turkey have a shared interest in creating a safe zone area, and this tactical relationship will remain. Additionally, she spoke on Turkey’s end goal in Syria. Turkey’s goals are pretty clear cut, Aylin Unver Noi detailed, as it opposes the Assad regime, supports constitutional changes, and creating a safe zone for refugees to return home. In order to do this, Turkey recognizes that it needs to eliminate terrorist threats in that area. According to Aylin Unver Noi, this return of refugees will “be aligned with international law and on a safe and voluntary basis. Of course, this is not a simple task, and Turkey “will need the help of the international community to achieve this.”
Finally, Dr. Zaki Lababidi provided insight on the Syrian perspective in the region. He first spoke on the Syrian constitutional reforms talks in Geneva. Due to the recent changes on the ground, the Assad regime is more confident than ever. According to Dr. Lababidi, the “U.S. hastily withdrawal was a gift to Putin.” It allowed Russia and the Assad regime to gain more control over the region and this will negatively impact the ongoing talks in Geneva. Futhermore, Dr. Lababidi stated the Syrian civilians feel betrayed by the U.S., Turkey, and the international community as a whole. According to Dr. Lababidi the feelings of betrayal are strong against Turkey, now that it is collaborating with Russia, even though Turkey was Syria’s strongest supporter in providing help with refugees and aid. He stated that the Syrians believe that the international community is looking for a piecemeal solution for a complex issue and feel a strong sense of distrust for the international community. But with U.S. policy towards Syria in disarray and the recent impeachment news, he believes that the Syrian issue is currently not a high priority for the U.S.