After Ankara slammed the door in John Bolton’s face during his trip to Turkey in which he expected to meet with Turkish President Erdogan, only to have Erdogan skip that meeting to criticize the US national security advisor in a speech to parliament, Turkey is now calling for Iran and Russia to step up coordination with Turkey in northern Syria as US troops withdraw.
It’s but the next humiliation for Bolton, who flew out of Turkey on Tuesday, and for White House policy in the Middle East, after he announced preconditions to American troop draw down that emphasized Turkey agreeing to not attack the US-backed Kurds in Syria. Erdogan slammed this as a “serious mistake” and pro-government Turkish media painted the picture of a “soft coup” underway against Trump being orchestrated by Bolton and other subverters who had “rogue”.
But no doubt adding insult to injury, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued further provocative words on Wednesday, noting that given “certain difficulties” of confused US policy, the American draw down should be coordinated with Iran and Russia to prevent a power vacuum and the reinvigoration of terrorists.
“The United States [has] been facing certain difficulties with the process of the troops’ withdrawal from Syria. We want to coordinate this process with Russia and Iran, with which we had arranged work in the framework of the Astana process,” the Turksih FM said.
This would involve Turkish forces conducting joint patrols with Russia amidst a US withdrawal of all troops from Syria, in accord with prior agreements reached during the Astana talks, set to continue further in Moscow at a future date. Cavusoglu also said bilateral talks are being prepared between Turkey and Iran, but gave no further specifics, according to Russian media.
Closer Turkish and Iranian coordination in Syria would be a huge red flag for Washington, which has long stated a policy goal of thwarting Iranian entrenchment in Syria as part of its reason for keeping forces in the country. Israel has also focused on the Iran issue to argue the White House must stay the course in Syria, or else cede the Middle East to the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah pro-Shia axis.
Erdogan, for this part, sought to articulate Turkey’s vision for a post-US pullout solution in northern Syria in a Monday New York Times op-ed asserting, “President Trump made the right call to withdraw from Syria,” while promising to protect Syrian Kurds not associated with terrorist groups. He made no mention of current talks and increased coordination between the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Army, and proposed a Turkish-backed “stabilization force” on the ground to patrol former US-occupied zones.
Given Turkish FM Cavusoglu’s most recent statements, it appears Erdogan is seeking approval and coordination for such a plan from Moscow, which however is likely to back the ongoing talks between Assad and Kurdish representatives. Or the provocative statements could also merely be the latest Turkish thumb in Washington’s eye.
But as we mentioned previously, this is where the Syrian Kurds are actually headed: towards making a deal with Assad which would provide Syrian Army protection to Kurdish enclaves in the face of the invading Turks. This truly local solution, fast taking shape, will occur without the United States or Turkey, and in affirmation of Syrian sovereignty.
As Washington and Ankara feud, and as President Trump seeks to clamp down on the conflicting messages on Syria from within his own administration, the “solution” may come faster and more organically than anyone thought, namely a Russian-backed Syrian Army advance on Kurdish enclaves in coordination with the YPG/former SDF Kurdish fighters.