Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who represents the nation most vocally opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, reportedly met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and American President Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly to discuss the Syrian civil war.
Turkish state media outlet Anadolu Agency reports that Davutoğlu met with Presidents Obama and Putin on separate occasions at a UN luncheon in New York, though the report notes that all parties involved have refused to divulge the details of that meeting, other than to say it regarded “developments in Syria.” “While Prime Ministry sources did not provide details about the meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, they confirmed that Davutoğlu also met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and Lebanese Prime Minister Temmam Salam,” the report concludes.
Turkey’s continued presence in talks on to the Syrian civil war– which has taken up much of the discussion time at the General Assembly– is pivotal for those who oppose Assad. Russia has taken the lead in the campaign against the Islamic State in the country, declaring Assad a “legitimate leader” and condemning the West for its involvement in the Middle East generally, blaming this for the creation of the Islamic State. Russia began airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria today.
The Turkish government has reacted with caution to the expanded presence of Russia in Syria. “[Russia] have taken [it] into the field. This is very dangerous,” Davutoğlu said of the development last week, adding that the Turkish government was watching “with deep concern.”
While Turkey has relied on the United States to support its staunch opposition to Assad in public, recent remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry indicate that the Obama administration may be willing to work with Russia on a “transition” that would allow for new leadership in Syria without immediately deposing Assad. Secretary Kerry told reporters that Assad’s “long-term presence” was “necessary” for Syria’s stability, and told reports on Tuesday that Russia and the United States had agreed on some terms for a future Syria. These statements appeared to contradict President Obama’s General Assembly speech, in which he called Assad a “tyrant” and demanded he immediately step down.
The Turkish government has faced criticism for similarly uncoordinated remarks. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated last week that he believed a transition out of war in Syria “with Assad is possible,” triggering outrage from many in Turkey. Erdogan later accused those who quoted him of being on “malicious quests.”
Davutoğlu’s statements have been more categorically anti-Assad. “We have the conviction that with al-Assad in charge during the transition period, that transition period would no longer be transitory,” he told reporters on Monday. “Our conviction on this matter hasn’t changed.”
Turkey is demanding the creation of a no-fly “safe zone” in Syria, to help manage both the war against Assad and the flow of migrants out of Syria into Turkey. “This demand is not related to Turkey’s national interests but, rather, to preventing the spread of refugee problem while keeping the refugees in Syria and offering the best services [to them] in Syria, ensuring everyone remains in their homeland in the safe zone,” Davutoğlu explained. He has reportedly clinched the participation of Germany and France, the latter nation which has just opened an investigation on Assad for committing crimes against humanity. Reports indicate that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in an attack in 2012, a crossing of President Barack Obama’s symbolic “red line” that led to no notable consequences for Assad.
Davutoğlu is scheduled to issue his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday morning.