The US sees the Idlib tensions as an opportunity to better relations with Turkey, but it won’t move past rhetoric.
I recently attended an event featuring Robert O’Brien, the fourth National Security Advisor since President Trump took office.
O’Brien’s message was clear: he stated that Turkey should not expect anything from the US regarding the Idlib crisis and that the US would not act as a police force for anyone. In plain English, he made it clear that Turkey and Russia should find a solution among themselves and leave the US out of it.
O’Brien visited Turkey several times during the Pastor Brunson crisis and knows the region well. Many official representatives in the White House, including O’Brien himself, think that rising tension between Turkey and Russia on the issues of Libya and Syria is an opportunity for a stronger US-Turkey relationship.
While the timing of the telephone conversation between President Erdogan and President Trump over the weekend was essential, it is evident in the announcements made by President Erdogan upon his return from Pakistan that the trust deficit continues.
In the same manner, the apathy of the American media towards Idlib won’t let up. The US media is also now turning a blind eye to Turkey’s efforts and the genocide in Idlib.
When we look at Congress, there are important messages from both senators and members of Congress to Assad and Russia concerning the latest developments in Idlib.
While Senator Lindsay Graham said, “I am pleased that Turkey is pushing Assad and Russia back. Trump should put every option against them on the table.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Congressman Engel Eliot, on the other hand, said, “I condemn the attacks on Turkish observation posts. The regime and Russia have created a catastrophe in the region.”
President Trump signed the “Caesar Syria Civil Protection Act,” legislation that imposes sanctions on Syria, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 (NDAA).
The reason why this legislation was called the Caesar Act is that it was named in memory of an old photographer, who was code-named “Caesar”. The sanctions will be imposed on all individuals and companies that are financing the war, including the Syrian Central Bank, oil companies, construction companies, and the militias, through the act. The economic support from neighbouring countries to Damascus will be prevented.
Arab and European countries are being warned about contributing to the political normalisation of Assad and Damascus and the reconstruction process. Time will show if the US will question its close friends like the UAE and its relationship with Assad.
However, it will be June 2020 before the legislation comes into effect and things on the ground are moving much faster. As such, a delay will benefit Assad and Russia, but it is unknown what it’s actual impact might be in June.
At the Munich Security Conference, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his team from Turkey took part in the program and had meetings with US Senators.
Minister Cavusoglu gave a clear message that Turkey wants its allies to provide clear and sincere support, especially on the Idlib crisis. Turkey could call all the allies to an urgent meeting in accordance with Article 4 of NATO: “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of one of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”
Just as the focus was turned to whether there can be an agreement between Turkey and Russia, Turkey’s looking at other alternatives, and its constant striving for diplomacy with everyone demonstrates how much it values people. We will see what might happen in Idlib more clearly in the coming days.
Author: Ali Cinar
Ali Cinar is a Senior Foreign Policy Expert and a 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient.