Clinton’s Visit to Turkey: A New Step in the Syrian Affair

Clinton’s Visit to Turkey: A New Step in the Syrian Affair

October 2012

On Aug. 11 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a one day visit to Turkey. The main agenda of the visit was to discuss the making of plans between Turkey and the United States in the event of regime collapse in Syria. Clinton came to Turkey after a ten day visit to several African countries. During the visit, Clinton had meetings with President Abdullah GŸl, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Syrian opposition figures. In this one day working visit, the critical meeting was held between Turkish and American delegations headed by Davutoglu and Clinton. The future of the Syrian regime, the condition of the refugees, and the power vacuum that has occurred in northern Syria were the main topics of the discussions.

In Turkish public opinion, Clinton’s visit did not draw as much attention as it deserved, and the Turkish media underestimated the importance of the visit. Turkish daily Star reported that in the meeting between ErdoÛan and Clinton, the former asked how Bill Clinton was, to which the U.S. Secretary of State answered he was well and watching the Olympics. Star said Clinton had visited several countries in this trip, but that Turkey was the best. About the content of the meetings, however, there was no reference.

Fortunately, the American media gave more detail. The New York Times reported the meaning of the visit as thus: “Turkey and the United States agreed Saturday to accelerate preparations for the possible fall of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, creating a formal bilateral team to manage helping the opposition, providing aid to fleeing refugees and planning for worst-case outcomes that include a chemical weapons attack.”

In a joint press conference with DavutoÛlu, Clinton described the content of their meeting and possible future steps with these words: “We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict, but now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning. And it needs to be across both of our governments … what the Minister and

I agreed to was to have very intensive operational planning … Certainly, our two ministries are coordinating much of it, but our intelligence services, our military, have very important responsibilities and roles to play.”

CNN described the speech of Davuto_lu in the same conference as Òmore forceful than Mrs. Clinton on the need for action.Ó According to DavutoÛlu, Òthe Òinternational community needs to take some very decisive steps to stop this.Ó In his speech, ÒthisÓ referred to the situation of the refugees and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. CNN also reported the words of an anonymous senior Turkish government official, who said: “We would like to see more support from the U.S. on Syria … Sometimes we feel very much alone.”

On displaced Syrian refugees, Clinton announced an additional $5.5 million in aid, which would make total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Syria $82 million. This amount is for the refugees who have come to Turkey, as well as to finance the two million Syrian people currently in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 80,000 people have sought refuge in Turkey so far. On the other hand, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the total number of refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan has reached almost 150,000. In addition to unregistered refugees, this number comes to more than 200,000.

Clinton also held a meeting with the representatives of the refugees and activists currently in Istanbul. The Washington Post described this meeting and its aim as follows: ÒThe group she saw Saturday included Internet activists, student protesters and others who her advisers hoped could provide greater clarity about the true nature of the political opposition in the country.Ó

During Clinton’s visit, the hottest topics were chemical weapons, a possible no-fly zone, and the role of terrorist organizations in the Syrian issue, mostly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). She identified the possible use of chemical weapons in a range of contingencies, and said this would be a red line for the world. Although a possible no-fly zone was also on the agenda, three days before Clinton’s visit, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice described the U.S. position on the no-fly zone by saying: Òthe reality is that a no-fly zone isn’t a simple proposition, it would ultimately involve putting boots on the ground and it would be a very different circumstance than we saw in Libya.Ó So, the no-fly zone is one of the most complicated parts of the discussions, as Turkey – in contrast to the U.S. – suggests that if the civil war in Syria deteriorates further, safe zones might be a better option than refugee camps beyond the Syrian border. The infiltration of terrorist groups into the power vacuum that has occurred in Syria was also among the widely debated issues. Clinton discussed the U.S. policy on this issue with these words: “We share Turkey’s determination that Syria must not become a haven for PKK terrorists, either now or after the departure of the al-Assad regime.” However, she did not identify how this mission would be accomplished.

Consequently, Clinton’s visit to Turkey was one of the most important political events of August. Although government circles did not inform Turkish public in a detailed manner, media reports on the visit made it obvious that this visit was an important step toward a regime change in Syria.

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