Turkey and the United States share a common vision for Syria and have identical interests in ending the decade-old conflict, the U.S. special envoy on Syria has said, underlining the fact that the two allies always had close cooperation despite disagreements and even in the worst times.
“For those of us inside the process, it’s always felt to us like we had close coordination and cooperation with our Turkish counterparts. I think we just need to build on that. There are so many areas we have identical interests. I think we can build on those,” Joel D. Rayburn, who has recently been appointed as the new American special envoy for Syria, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview in Ankara on Dec. 2.
Rayburn paid a visit to Ankara and held meetings with senior Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın. Turkey and the U.S. have long been in cooperation throughout the Syrian conflict, but the latter’s support to the SDF had caused a rift between the two allies.
“I have to tell you: We had our disagreements, we had our ups and downs but broadly speaking, even in the worst times, it’s felt to us inside the U.S. system that we had close cooperation with our Turkish counterparts. Because at the end of the days, we are allies and we share the common vision for what the rest of the world needs out of Syria in order for our interest to be secured,” he said.
Cooperation with Turkey is an essential part of the efforts to bring an end to the ISIL phenomenon in Syria, to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot have a safe haven in Syria, to counter the destabilizing role of Iran and its ally, Hezbollah, and to achieve a political solution so that the Syrian people can return to a normal life and peace, the U.S. diplomat said.
Turkish, American interest overlaps
“Well, it’s always felt to me that there was a lot more overlap of the U.S. and Turkish interests, goals and approaches in Syria than some people have thought,” the envoy stressed. Turkey and U.S. may have debated about what is the best way to get to the in-state concerning Syria but they don’t disagree on the in-state, Rayburn said, “We all agree that there should be a stable Syria whose territorial integrity is preserved and has a government that behaves differently towards the surrounding region and differently towards its people. So there needs to be a government in Damascus that is not behaving in a hostile fashion towards the rest of the region and towards its people. So that can of a kind vision for an in-state Turkey and the US very much share.”
No interest in establishing a terror corridor
On the continued disagreement between the two countries over the U.S. support to the SDF, which Turkey sees as a terror organization under the name of the YPG, Rayburn reiterated that “The cooperation the U.S. has with the SDF is pursuing an enduring defeat of DEASH in Syria,” using another acronym for ISIL.
On a question about Ankara’s concerns that the YPG can create what it calls a terror corridor in northeastern Syria thanks to the American support, the envoy replied: “The U.S. has no interest and no motivation about establishing a so-called terror corridor in northeastern Syria. The U.S. wants to see the Turkish-Syria border stable and secure. The U.S. wants to do everything we can to try to bring some stability to assist the local communities in northeastern Syria and to bring stability to the people who have suffered so much. So, we certainly have no intention of seeing new threats to Turkey’s security emerge from Syria whether it is from northeastern Syria or anywhere else.”
ISIL runs as a terror network
The campaign against ISIL is still in a fragile place and the group is still functioning as a clandestine terror network despite a solid military victory against the territorial ISIL caliphate, the diplomat suggested.
“So, ISIL is no longer there but they still are a clandestine terror network. They can do damage if they are allowed the space to do it. Not just in Syria and in Iraq locally, but if they are given the space as a clandestine terror network, they will try to and they do try to plan operations beyond Syria and Iraq to lash out at the rest of the world,” he said.
They need to be defeated as a terror network as well but that will take some time and a nuanced approach is needed, Rayburn said, citing the need for a political stabilization of the local communities so that they back up on their feet and learn to live together in a stable and peaceful way.
On a question about growing counter-terror activities of the Turkish army in the Operation Peace Spring area and whether they can turn into a new military operation by Turkey, the diplomat stressed, “I certainly hope not.”
Bi-partisan support to Syria policies
On concerns that Turkish-American dialogue on Syria may turn to be much more difficult under the incoming Biden administration, Rayburn said he can’t speak on behalf of any new administration but pointed out that there is a bi-partisan support to the policies being pursued in Washington D.C.
“I think that the Syria policy that we have been executing is one that in its goals has a bipartisan support,” he stated, citing the defeat of ISIL, countering Iran’s actions, preventing Damascus from posing a threat to the Syrian people and neighboring countries and working toward a political solution as these goals.
Turkey prevented catastrophe in Idlib
On Idlib where Turkey and Russia brokered a ceasefire on March 5, the U.S. has praised the Turkish actions in the province that protected the three million people from a military onslaught by the Assad regime.
“Because the alternative would have been a humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Idlib and enormous refugee pressure on Turkey, and elsewhere in the West, and absolute disaster for the people of Syria. So, what Turkey has done had to be done,” he said.
The developments in Idlib have proven that Assad regime will not be able to get a military solution to the conflict, the U.S. diplomat underlined. “There is no way forward to go and that’s why the only viable path to ending the Syrian conflict is the political path and not the military path.”
Hurriyet Daily News