Turkey may mend ties with Syrian and Egyptian regimes

Turkey may mend ties with Syrian and Egyptian regimes
3 min read
13 July, 2016
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has hinted that Ankara could patch up ruptured ties with Egypt and possible move closer to Syria.

In the past month, Turkey has fixed disputes with Israel and Russia in its bid for regional reapprochement.

But mending ties with the Egyptian and Syrian regimes amid ongoing repression by their security forces will be much more sensitive missions for Ankara's diplomats.

"We have normalised ties with Israel and Russia. But I am sure that we will return to normal with Syria too," Turkish Prime Miniser Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday, in probably one of the most surprising political u-turns by President Recept Tayyip Erdogan's government.

It also highlights a more conciliatory approach to foreign policy from the new prime minister - an Erdogan loyalist - after the more aggressive stance of his predecessor Ahmet Davutoglu towards the Syrian and Egyptian regimes.

"We will keep on increasing our friendships by observing the interests of our region and our country," Yildirim told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party this week.

It comes after years of tensions between Ankara and Damscus with the two coming close to war several times since the outbreak of the 2011 revolution in Syria.

Turkey has been the one of the strongest supporters of rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, and said that a precondition for ending war is that the Syrian dictator must leave power.

Turkey is also home to some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, and hosts the opposition's largest political and military commands.

Relations with Egypt also severely worsened after the ousting of pro-Ankara Islamist President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian army in 2013. 

'Zero problems'

Turkey earlier this month agreed a normalisation deal with Israel, following half a decade of downgraded ties after the deadly storming of a Turkish aid ship to Gaza in 2010. Israeli commandos killed ten unarmed Turkish pro-Palestine activists infuriating Erdogan.

Relations between Ankara and Moscow soured after Turkey shot down a Russian jet which entered its airspace last year.

Erdogan ended the crisis by sending a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, expressing regret over the downing of the war plane last November.

The latest diplomatic overtures appears to suggest that Turkey has gone back to its previous "zero problems with neighbours" foreign policy that defined the early years of Erdogan's time as premier.

The approach rapidly deteriorated into what critics derided as a policy of "multiple problems with everyone" during the Arab Spring revolutions.

Turkey had its hopes dashed of finding friends in the region after Arab regimes successfully contained the spread of the pro-democracy movements starting in Tunisia, which Anakra supported.

"Our default approach is to maintain good relations with everyone unless conflict is inevitable," a Turkish official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

'Normal with Syria?'

After once being friends, Erdogan would become a fierce opponent of Assad during the Syrian war with the Turkish president repeatedly calling for his downfall.

There was no indication that the Erdogan government has dropped its support for the Syrian opposition and warmed to the Assad regime.

But there have been sporadic reports in recent weeks of a possible softening in Ankara's position and that Algeria was mediating contact with Damascus, which has been denied by the Turkish government.

We have normalised ties with Israel and Russia. But I am sure that we will return to normal with Syria too.
- Binali Yildirim

Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told AFP: "Turkey's softening on Assad" began last summer after Erdogan announced Assad could remain as president for up to six months while a political transition was finalised.

"This policy... differed from Turkey's previous insistence that Assad leave at the beginning of the six-month timeframe," he said.

The Syrian opposition have also been assured by Ankara it still has Turkey's full support, AFP reported.

"There is no change or shift in their policy towards the Syrian regime, their policy towards the Syrian people and revolution," Anas al-Abdeh, head of the Syrian National Coalition said on Tuesday.

Agencies contibuted to this story.