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Tony Badran

US tells Turkey to back off Syria

In a previously unreported turn of events, it has now come to light that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her meeting with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last month, emphatically dismissed a number of forward leaning options on Syria that the Turkish top diplomat proposed to the Obama administration.
 
What this means is that Washington, which at one point subcontracted its Syria policy to Ankara, has now called the Turks off the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
 
According to well-informed Turkish and US sources, during his meeting with Secretary Clinton, Davutoğlu put forward a set of measures, including, among others, creating a buffer zone and/or a humanitarian corridor, as well as organizing and equipping the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The secretary of state responded in no uncertain terms that the Obama administration had no interest in pursuing any of these options. In fact, according to one account, Clinton told her Turkish counterpart no less than three times, “We are not there.”
 
This conversation fits well with the administration’s message to other regional allies, namely Saudi Arabia, against arming the FSA and pushing Washington’s preferred policy of going through the Russians, in an attempt to reach a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis.
 
There were hints of Davutoğlu’s agenda on the eve of his meeting with Clinton, along with some speculation about Turkish-US consultation regarding the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria. The idea was that Turkey was prepared to move in this direction following the failure to reach an agreement with Moscow, especially as this resulted in the Assad regime escalating its violence. The brutalization of Homs in February may have also finally pushed the Turks into action.
 
Apparently, the Turks, much like the Saudis, were looking to the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis as a possible forum to bypass the Russians and begin a more muscular effort, with US backing. The Saudis found out at the meeting that no such action was forthcoming, and withdrew in frustration, while publicly voicing their preference for arming the Syrian rebels.
 
The Turks got their answer from Secretary Clinton well before the Tunis gathering, and, according to the Turkish sources, were dismayed at the Obama administration’s extraordinary passivity and refusal to lead.
 
The message conveyed to the Turks was the same one made clear to the Saudis. According to one US source, when Davutoğlu ended up asking Clinton where the administration was on the issue, her response simply repeated the mantra about the Arab League initiative and going to the Security Council again for another go at the Russians. In other words, it was more of the same.
 
Not surprisingly, following the meeting, the Turkish foreign ministry pulled back, stating that direct intervention “is not on our agenda at the moment.”  The Turks may have finally decided that more aggressive measures are needed.  However, and despite the fact that Clinton may not have objected to Turkey moving on its own, Ankara remains reluctant to lead such an endeavor on its own, especially without explicit US approval and backing. In effect, therefore, the administration was actively blocking any such move on Turkey’s part, just as it held a red light to possible Saudi and Qatari plans to arm the FSA.
 
However, last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again floated the idea of a buffer zone, adding that the next Friends of Syria meeting, scheduled to take place in Istanbul on April 1, would come up “with very different results,” without elaborating further.
 
This goes back to the statement by an unnamed US official that the Obama administration would take a passive stand toward regional states arming the FSA “at the next Friends of Syria meeting.” This reading was reflected in Turkish press commentary as well, placing emphasis on the upcoming gathering in Istanbul as a possible turning point. Similarly, there has been speculation that the Saudis, too, are waiting for the April 1 meeting before beginning their efforts to arm the FSA in earnest. The purpose of such declarations could be to pressure the US to take more aggressive action.
 
If this reading is correct, then it would explain the Obama administration’s eagerness to support the Kofi Annan mission, as well as its praise for the non-binding UN Security Council statement issued yesterday. Secretary Clinton hailed the statement even when it contained no mention of Assad’s departure from power, no time constraints on Annan’s mission, and no specific or credible threat of action in case of Syrian non-compliance, to say nothing of how its call for dialogue between the regime and the opposition flies in the face of the US policy of regime change.
 
One could ask, then, what in the statement merited such enthusiasm. But what the statement did do is buy the administration more time to continue pressing its regional allies against any military options. Whether the Saudis and the Turks will decide to proceed regardless with their plans following the next Friends of Syria meeting, remains to be seen. But the administration’s latest move certainly has limited their maneuverability.
 
The Obama administration’s reasoning is simple. It calculates, rather correctly, that such regional efforts will likely end up drawing the US in down the road, one way or another. President Obama wishes to nip in the bud any possibility of this happening in an election year. And so, such regional moves were opposed in order for the president not to be forced to take action he’s adamantly intent on avoiding, regardless of the consequences.
 
As a result, the administration has found itself in the surreal position of siding closer with Assad’s Russian ally and at cross-purposes with its own regional allies – and, most significantly, in contradiction with its own stated policy of regime change in Syria.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

 

  • Gandahar Hassan

    Majd thank you for your honest reply and further confirmation. That's right you are in a middle of a war there in Syria but not here in Lebanon and I'm very sorry for that, we suffered from one for many years. But you already know that as your regime played a shameful part in it. In Lebanon us Lebanese are worried about our food supply, livelihood and quality of life for our children and ourselves. You would already know that if you were still occupying the country. You can even check for yourself if you don't believe me, just call some of the friends you still have here and ask them they'll tell you.

    March 29, 2012

  • Hep

    Syria is now a geopolitical battleground. It is time for Burhan Ghalioun to come to his senses before he gets more Syrian blood on his hands. Without the UN Security Council granting legal authority to launch an offensive against Syria, there are only piecemeal efforts -- and these have all been tried, if not yet exhausted: sanctions, demonstrations, arming militias, cyberwarfare, propaganda, diplomatic arm-twisting, and bribing defectors. A whole year has passed with no major cracks in support of Assad’s key constituencies and this kind of tactical pressure may ultimately backfire.

    March 29, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Gandahar, i liked your naive conclusion, i barely have time to respond to your attacks on Hizbullah and Syria and Iran, do you reallt expect that i would talk about our economic problems? and if i don`t, then i am not Lebanese?!! hahaha. look fellow, when you are in the middle of a war you don`t care about the price of bread, you care about saving those people who will eat the bread. any way, i liked Bashar in Baba Amro, is that the man the whole silly world thought he will be toppled in weeks? yalla, let`s amuse ourselves with the creativity of some Arabs who are looking for ways now to fix their relationship with al Assad!

    March 28, 2012

  • fawaz

    MAJD:"..support those who resist israel regardless of their religion, colour, sex, or nationality" with this as your only criteria I guess you supported Saddam Hussein when he was Scudding Israel while mustard gassing Kurds and Shiites, you should be so proud.

    March 28, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    majd is comfortable with himself posing as a lebanese and being offensive on a personal level (just like his masters in crumbling damascus). It doesn't bother him to spew lies, no, not in the least. That's because that is all he knows, it is his only education and his final refuge. He tries to belittle people because that's the only way he can temporarily feel "good" about his lousy self. Its a pity but it is real funny to see his fruitless efforts to insult others. Like the fat rolodex of daily stinking propaganda that comes effortless;ly out of his rotten and outdated machine day after day, he labors away and tolis at nothing... its sad, but funny if and only if no one gets hurt at the end of the day....

    March 28, 2012

  • Gandahar Hassan

    First rule of the Syrian mouthpiece, when cornered end your argument with something about Israel. Ask any pure Lebanese living in Lebanon and he'll tell you the number one concerns for him and his family are the dire economic and living conditions, from electricity, to water and food supply, to the mind numbing cost of living. Mjad, the chatterbox that you are, not commenting on articles addressing the economic and living conditions just further confirm your foreign identity.

    March 28, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    majd, it takes one to know one... I guess it takes a foreigner to recognize another doesn't it? Since we both established that you are not Lebanese, then what nationality are you? Gandahar you are quite right, majd works for the syrian ,ministry of Misinformation and attempts at Defamation (that's all these guys are good at by the way) and majd's barely good at what he does, in fact he is terrible, if I were his employer I would have fired his sorry butt a long time ago....

    March 28, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Gandahar, i wonder how you may conclude that i am sectarian since i said Marco is not a Lebanese?!!!! he is not Lebanese, i said it many times to him months ago, he never denied it, and this has nothing to do with his "name", simply, he is not Lebanese and i am not interested in his dialogue. add, what is your business in that? last, I am Lebanese, pure Lebanese whose cause is to resist israel and its allies and to support those who resist israel regardless of their religion, colour, sex, or nationality. that is my identity and i am proud of it, i am so comfortable with myself, at time all my opponents are so weak since they always have to find justifications why it happened that their allies are the allies of israel and their enemies are the enemies of israel and their goals are the goals of israel.

    March 27, 2012

  • Gandahar Hassan

    Majd who's the sectarian racist now, you assume that Marco Antonio is not Lebanese because of his name just like you once assumed that Michael Young was not Lebanese, besides you are obviously a Syrian working in their ministry of misinformation in Damascus, that's why you never comment on internal Lebanese economic or social issues you don't live here and the Syrian ministry does not send you copies of what you should write relating to those stories.

    March 27, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Omar, you know better than i do what the syrian army can do, do you want to try it again?!!! ya Omar, you are obsessed with the sectarian issue, all your talk is sunni vs shia vas alawi vs Chritian ...etc, habibi Omar, Bashar is not spending his days and nights in the mosque, and your allies in saudi and qatar are careless about the sunna or Islam or the Prophet himself, they never cared and will never do, all they care about is to serve their american masters the best they can in order to keep their thrones, otherwise the son will overthrow the father who overthrowed the grand father. your sectarian talk is your way to hide your true goals and intentions which is to vanish all those who are the true enemies of israel starting with Iran and not ending with HA and Syria and the Palestinian Resistance. however ya Omar, no matter what sectarianism you incite, u will never hide the truth that u are playing the agenda of USA and israel who occupies Palestine which was freed one day By Omar

    March 26, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Marco Antonio, again Marco, you are not a Lebanese, and i am not interested in your dialogue.

    March 26, 2012

  • majd fanclub

    Majd you forgot the most important one, Hafez Assad liberated the Golan and then Bashar liberated it again for good measure. Hassan celebrated by organizing a rally thanking the Israelis for their occupation but was dissipated they did not kill more Syrians during their years of occupation..

    March 26, 2012

  • الى سالم

    "USA acknowledged that the syrian army is strong and united", are you talking about the same army that couldn't put an end to a revolution for over a year now?? sme3 ya 2abbari, trok lsiyese w khallik b zera3it l7ashish w la ba2a tbahdel 7alak bhal irrational comments. I know of many Shia who support the peaople of Syria, the people of the revolution, so you need to quit giving the impression that shia are with bashar coz he is alawite and killing the sunni. You need to quit that bcoz it is not in your favor my friend. Retaliation is a must.

    March 26, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    at last majd broke down and said the truth and got it all off his chest. Finally, majd, do you feel better now that you spilled the beans and that heavy weight is lifted off your shoulders? Good boy majd. You keep it up now, keep saying the truth and you will feel better about life and yourself in general. good boy, keep it... Just remember to hide from your master from here on, although a heavy weight has been lifted off your shoulders, unfortunately from now own you have to keep looking over your shoulder. Good luck, plastic surgery will help, albeit not for too long.....

    March 26, 2012

  • Rated ARRRR

    HEP my friend "the weapons of mass destruction” are so passé, now we have better more reliable proofs in the form of rotund Walid Muallem and his exiting directorial debut, I smell Oscar!

    March 25, 2012

  • jabalamel

    Majd, sorry Majd, you said nothing.

    March 25, 2012

  • Hep

    After all the failures in the UN, there is one short cut left. “Friends of Syria”, that is, the “Coalition of the willing” can liberate Syria by “Shock and Awe”. At the same time they can look for “weapons of mass destruction” and for any “yellow-cake from Niger”. They shouldn’t wait for the “smoking gun” which can be in the form of a “mushroom cloud”. lol

    March 24, 2012

  • ali daoud

    toni, do i need to prove to you that water is nothing but water?!!! oh yeah, that`s it, Bashar is a Mossad agent and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the son of Ariel Sharon the living martyr for six years in his farm!!!! oh yeah, that`s it, and the 2006 war is nothing but a video game made so perfectly that people believed it`s a war!!! oh yeah, that`s it, Bashar and Hizbullah and Iran are best friends to USA and israel, while qatar and saudi are the real enemies of israel and usa!!!! of yeah, that`s it, Iran assassinated Imad Moghneye and syria assassinated the Iranian nuclear scientists to prevent them from making a saudi and a qatari nuclear bomb!!!! of yeah, that`s it, The Rafic Hariri Center whose director took part in the last Aipac congress did so in order to spy on the israelis not because they are friends and allies!!! oh yeah, the new egyptian government is still cutting the power to Gaza in order to harm israel and make the palestinians go for suicide attacks against israel!!! :)

    March 23, 2012

  • toni

    Does Israel occupy quatari land ?

    March 23, 2012

  • syria al asad

    Toni, wake up...you represent the 5% of syrian population...tell wich arab countery fired a bullet against israel...ksa or qatar??!!!

    March 23, 2012

  • toni

    To majd the USA tried for one year to topple Bashar !!!!! .What a joke.They never did such a thing .Bashar is a cia and a mossad agent .They tried to make him do everything they want and he does most.And the syrian army, name me one military victory in its history.Ah yes i remember the great victory of Bab amr !!!! Or the Golan that they recaptured from Israel.Still waiting for one (1) bullet to be fired there.Majd did you get your last paycheque from Teheran ?

    March 23, 2012

  • First Advisor

    Very few political analyses make me chuckle in sardonic appreciation. Badran is clearly very clever, with a very clear vision of reality. The other comments are equally undeceived. I welcome the inspiration to add Lebanon NOW to my favorites list of news media sites.

    March 22, 2012

  • ali daoud

    toni, the USA tried for one year to topple Bashar, it did all it can do during that period, it failed, the Russians were ready to support Bashar even in the case of a regional war, the USA acknowledged that the syrian army is strong and united and syria`s neighours were not ready to be part of any blockade against syria, simply the USA did all except a direct war which is not possible without a UN resolution. the USA reached dead end. End of story. ciao, and VIVE Bashar, down israel.

    March 22, 2012

  • Leslie

    Not all Americans support this decision or Israel's wishes, in any way shape or form. The lack of compassion for the people of Syria is no surprise from a government focused on money and the manipulation of the America constitution to benefit the wealthy and limit the liberties of the rest. Barack Obama is an embarrassment and a danger to the rights of all Americans. And has little or no visible humanity, unless he wants something from you or your country. His unclean relationship with Israel is the perfect example.'

    March 22, 2012

  • tony

    Everybody's obsessed with Israel and the magical ideas surrounding it. This has nothing to do with Israel.

    March 22, 2012

  • toni

    America (aka Israel) wants Assad to remain .Weakened but still in charge.That is Israel 's wish.End of story.

    March 22, 2012

  • Beiruti

    Politics do make strange bedfellows. As tactically unsound as the US position is as expressed in the article, strategically its more sound to proceed as the US Administration has decided. Nothing will give Assad more credibility than for the US to take a more direct adversarial position toward his regime. The US reputation in the region is toxic. What we are for, the "Arab Street" is against as it is seen as the steel fist of Israel acting through US policy. If the idea is to give the SNC and the Syrian Opposition credibility, the last thing needed is to say that the friend of Israel is their friend. This would be giving Assad a huge gift and a lever to remain in power. The Turks, Saudis and Qataris will do this with the US playing a supporting role, only.

    March 22, 2012

  • H.A.

    THis should come as no surprise... Syria is a lesser problem than Iran for the US, and Russia is being given a pass at leading the "stabilization" effort whether Assad stays or not. In return, it will most likely be asked to support additional political action (or potentially military) against the Islamic Republic. You scratch my back, I scratch yours...

    March 22, 2012