US President Donald Trump is planning to remove American soldiers from Syria, reports Russian radio Vesti FM, citing Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that his country is ready to conduct a military operation in Northern Syria with a very clear goal, “the liquidation of Kurdish terrorists”. Northern Syria is controlled by Kurdish militias, which have enjoyed considerable American support and have been instrumental in the fight against ISIS. Turkey, however, is very wary of Kurdish organisations and the possibility of a Kurdish proto-state on its borders, fearing this might turn into a threat to its internal stability. The removal of US troops from Syria would create a vacuum that could favour Turkey’s intervention.
In another unexpected development, Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in an interview with CNBC correspondent Hadley Gamble in the context of the Doha Forum, said that Turkey would work with Syrian president Assad, if he was to maintain power by winning legitimate elections. “If Assad is elected in these elections, would you work with him?”, asked the US journalist. “If there is a democratic and reliable election then everyone may need to consider it”, responded the Turkish diplomat.
This would constitute a significant turn of in Turkey’s policy towards Syria. Ever since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey had been one of the main sponsors of the anti-Assad coalition. Turkey’s intelligence was key in organizing and equipping what became the Free Syrian Army. With the war lingering on and the appearance of ISIS, Turkey, however, took a more cautious course and its main objective now is the stabilisation of Syria and avoiding the formation of an independent Kurdish political entity in Northern Syria, where Kurdish militia de facto have kept out the Syrian central government.