Friday, October 2, 2009

Turkey, Syria's new best friend

Turkish friendship has helped bring Damascus in from the cold, but may make the nation increasingly dependent on Ankara's will

Chris Phillips, Thursday 1 October 2009

"Just over a decade ago, Turkey's army gathered on its southern border in anticipation of a war with Syria that was narrowly avoided. Just over a fortnight ago, the two neighbours signed accords allowing for visa-free passage between the two states. Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, now describes Turkey as Syria's best friend, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, publicly calls Syrians his brothers......

This new friendship is therefore inherently unbalanced. Syria remains only one strand (admittedly a useful one) of a wider realist Turkish foreign policy – as seen by visa-free agreements with Iran and Iraq. Turkey, in contrast, is an essential ingredient in Syria's plans for international rehabilitation and economic recovery. It is highly unlikely that any major strategic realignment will take place as Turkey can get all it wants from a willing Syria without having to commit itself to a defensive alliance and an abrogation of its ties with Israel.

Nor is there likely to be much pressure from Erdogan on Assad to either reform internally or internationally, as this would be out of line with the "zero problems with neighbours" strategy. Turkey is trying to pursue an ambitious new foreign policy in the Middle East, and Syria is enjoying being along for the ride – at least for now."

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