Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria
Turkish army tanks gather close to the Syrian border at Hassa in Hatay province, a southern Turkish province on the Mediterranean coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria
  • Significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: An increase in Turkish military deployments near the Turkish-Syrian border has raised fears of an extensive conflict east of the Euphrates.

A significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The control of Tal Abyad helped the YPG connect noncontiguous territory in northern Syria and organizing it into cantons such as Afrn, Kobani and Al-Jazira.

The Turkish operation into Syria might be linked with the risk of approaching US sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

A US delegation is set to arrive Ankara next week, and military movements by Turkey in Syria are expected to form part of its agenda.

Dr. Sinan Hatahet, a Syrian analyst based in Istanbul, believed that conflict was unlikely because there are ongoing negotiations about the safe zone in northern Syria and Manbij.

“Both countries are still resolved to solve their bilateral issues through diplomatic channels. But if the US impose sanctions, it could harm this long-dated relationship,” Hatahet said.

The Turkish military has initiated troop deployments several times over recent years to put pressure on the US to realize its agreement in the northern city of Manbij.

“The only unique aspect of this deployment is that it is happening just after the delivery of S-400 components. The American priority in Syria is to advance negotiations for a political solution and to challenge Iranian expansion,” Hatahet said.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said even though Ankara constantly emphasizes its willingness to find a workable solution in northern Syria, US sanction threats could lead Turkey to consider new options.

“If the US decides to impose harsh sanctions that will cripple the Turkish economy, Turkey can go for a unilateral military operation in Northern Syria. Sanctions might trigger a new military operation in the east of the Euphrates,” Cengiz said.

Cengiz believes that Ankara’s decision to amass troops along the Turkish-Syrian border adjacent to YPG-controlled areas is a direct signal to the US.

“Turkey has been losing its patience with the US in recent years. The Manbij issue has been problematic between the two sides for a long time. The shared plan for the city was not implemented for more than a year,” he added.

“The nature and scale of the planned safe zone in Northern Syria is still an issue between the two sides. The US seems to be clear in its decision to back the YPG in the future,” Cengiz added.

According to Cengiz, with this recent military deployment, Turkey is trying to strengthen its hand in response to US threats.

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, thinks that Erdogan has two goals in mind: Influence Trump’s thinking on sanctions and react to the US’ decision last week to consider deploying European troops along the Syrian-Turkish border.

“Since Trump and his national security advisers are not talking in one voice on the S-400, Erdogan is trying to weigh in on this debate by highlighting the potential risks to US forces, however this move might further antagonize the US against Ankara,” he said.

“While Erdogan is trying to have leverage over the upcoming talks between the Turkish and American militaries regarding northern Syria, the unintended risk is provoking a confrontation with Kurdish forces, which might increase the cost of Turkish intervention in Syria at a critical time in Erdogan’s political future,” Macaron said.

In addition to CAATSA sanctions, Ankara could likely face punitive measures from Brussels. In response to Turkey’s gas drilling activities in Cypriot waters, the EU is also threatening to cut pre-accession funding to Ankara by €145.8 million ($164.6 million), Politico recently reported.

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.