Turkey says Assad’s future up to Syrians to negotiate

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands at the start of the talks in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 23 November 2017

Turkey says Assad’s future up to Syrians to negotiate

ISTANBUL: Turkey supports a political solution for Syria but retains its “red lines” on the subject of Bashar Assad remaining president, a top Turkish ruling party official said on Thursday.

During a trilateral meeting with Russia and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday, Turkey made clear its “reservations” about Assad having any future role in Syria “after all these deaths,” Mahir Unal, the spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, told The Associated Press (AP).

Turkey also emphasized at the Sochi meeting, Unal said, that there must be negotiations between Assad and the opposition, which Ankara has supported from the start of Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year.

“It’s not within the logic of negotiations to have a precise position today on the political solution and on whether the transition will be with or without Assad,” Unal said, adding that Turkey, Russia and Iran would act as “facilitators” in negotiations.

He also said that Turkey remains adamantly opposed to Syrian Kurdish fighters participating in negotiations — another red line — while at the same time supporting Syria’s territorial unity, AP reported.

The US-backed Syrian Kurds have battled the Daesh group in Syria and control a significant stretch of territory. However, Ankara considers them a terror group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within Turkey’s own borders.

In Sochi, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran discussed ways to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria, including the return of refugees, humanitarian aid and exchange of prisoners.

Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that political settlement will require concessions from all sides, including Assad’s regime. The Syrian president had made a surprise trip to Sochi late on Monday for talks with Putin, which the Kremlin said were intended to lay the groundwork for Wednesday’s trilateral meeting.

“We have reached a consensus on helping the transition to an inclusive, free, fair and transparent political process that will be carried out under the leadership and ownership of the Syrian people,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the meeting.

However, the issue of the participation of Syrian Kurds’ main political party PYD still seems on the table of the trio as it is seen by Ankara as an existential threat on its border because of close links with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for more than three decades.

Erdogan emphasized that Turkey cannot share a platform with any terror organization that target Turkey’s domestic security, and added that “exclusion of terrorist elements from the process will remain among our priorities”.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, emphasized the importance of Moscow having convinced both Tehran and Ankara to become the guarantors of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative that was initially announced as a purely Russian project.

“Yet, it seems that the participation of the PYD representatives in this upcoming congress continues to be a thorny issue between Russia and Turkey,” Ersen told Arab News.

At the same time, however, Ersen said that in principle Ankara is not against the participation of the Syrian Kurdish groups in the peace process — provided that they have no links with the PYD.

“This might help Ankara and Moscow find a middle way regarding this issue,” he said.

“On the other hand, there are also rumors that one of Russia’s main goals is to start a rapprochement process between the PYD and the Assad regime. I think this was one of the important issues discussed in Assad’s recent visit to Sochi,” he said.

According to Ersen, if Moscow achieves this goal, the PYD representatives may be persuaded to join the delegation of the Assad regime in the upcoming congress.

“But eliminating the Turkish reaction will still be a difficult issue for Moscow even in that case,” he said.

Ersen thinks that Russia still believes the US should remain as a major actor at the Syrian peace talks, where both countries prefer a political solution. “Russia-US relations are simultaneously shaped by the dynamics of cooperation and competition, and they are jointly supporting Geneva talks,” he said.

In parallel to this, peace talks in Geneva will resume on Nov. 28 under the auspices of the United Nations.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst from ORSAM, an Ankara-based think-tank, said it seems impossible that PYD will take part in any political solution that involves Turkey.

“PYD’s eventual involvement may result in the collapse of Astana process, because the major reason for Turkey to develop its partnership with Russia and Iran is the US support for PYD,” Orhan told Arab News.

Orhan noted that any inclusion of PYD in the political settlement would bring up territorial integrity and federalism issues, something opposed by Turkey, Iran and the Assad regime. “Russia will rather extend this thorny issue to the time,” he said.

“Turkey would only give its consent to the leadership of Assad during the political transition process with one condition: organizing free, fair and transparent elections at the end of this process as well as getting some guarantees for a new constitution that takes into account the demands of the Syrian opposition,” Orhan said.

Turkish court rejects Australia’s request to extradite Daesh recruiter

A Turkish soldier is seen in an armoured personnel carrier at a check point near the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis province, Turkey. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 July 2018

Turkish court rejects Australia’s request to extradite Daesh recruiter

  • Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
  • Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained

SYDNEY: A Turkish court rejected an Australian request to extradite a citizen it believes is a top recruiter for the Daesh group, Australia’s foreign minister said on Friday, in a setback for Canberra’s efforts to prosecute him at home.
Melbourne-born Neil Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and has appeared in Daesh videos and magazines. Australia has alleged that he actively recruited Australian men, women and children and encouraged acts of militancy.
“We are disappointed that the Kilis Criminal Court in Turkey has rejected the request to extradite Neil Prakash to Australia,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.
“We will continue to engage with Turkish authorities as they consider whether to appeal the extradition decision,” she said.
Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained there nearly two years ago.
Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported from Kilis that Prakash was initially ordered to be freed but was later charged under Turkish law with being a Daesh member.
A spokesman at Turkey’s foreign ministry in Istanbul had no immediate comment and the Turkish embassy in Australia did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a militant group.
Canberra announced financial sanctions against Prakash in 2015, including anyone giving him financial assistance, with punishment of up to 10 years in jail.
The Australian government wrongly reported in 2016, based on US intelligence, that Prakash had been killed in an air strike in Mosul, Iraq. It later confirmed that Prakash was detained in Turkey.
Australia raised its national terror threat level to “high” for the first time in 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq or Syria.
A staunch ally of the United States and its actions against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Australia believes more than 100 of its citizens were fighting in the region.