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Turkey Considering ‘Working with Assad’ amid Strained Relations with U.S.

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 11, 2010 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, at al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus, Syria. Within minutes of news breaking of a coup against Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, government-held areas in Syria broke out …
AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File
EDWIN MORA

Turkey, whose government has previously vowed to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, now claims to be open to working with Assad in Syria if he won a “democratic and credible” election, according to the Turkish foreign minister.

“If it is democratic and credible [election] then everybody should consider that [working with Assad]. It has to be very credible, transparent, democratic and fair elections. At the end, Syrian people should decide who is going to rule the country after the elections,” the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) quotes Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying during a special session of the 18th Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.

Referring to Syrians inside and outside the country, including Turkey, Cavusoglu stressed that Syrians should draft their constitution.

“It [the draft process] should be conducted under the umbrella of the United Nations. It has to be an inclusive one. Everybody, the eligible ones, should be able to vote,” he said.

Throughout most of the Syrian conflict, Turkey has been backing Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Assad and continues to do so. However, the U.S. government’s support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that Ankara and some American officials believe to be an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) terrorist group, as well as America’s refusal to extradite Turkish dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen, have triggered tensions between Turkey and the United States.

The U.S. is “closing [its] eyes” to what YPG and PKK are doing to civilians in the region, Cavusoglu argued.

“They have been intimidating the people,” he said.

Friction between the United States and Turkey has prompted Ankara to move closer to Assad’s ally, Russia, despite being on opposite sides of the conflict.

Despite Turkey’s concerns about the YPG’s relationship with the PKK, the United States continues to support the group, which America considers to be the most effective partner against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Turkey has repeatedly urged the United States to cut its ties with the YPG and its affiliates in Syria, to no avail. The U.S. military recently warned Turkey against an operation into territory controlled by the YPG in Syria.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has signaled an indefinite military presence in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, pave the way for a political transition and Assad’s eventual departure, and combat Iran’s growing influence.

“We are not working in coordination with the central government; we’ll not work in coordination with the Assad regime,” Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, emphasized last week, highlighting America’s animosity towards the dictator.

“We want to see a resolution to the Syrian civil war through the UN Security Council resolution process “ he added. “And we also want to see the removal of foreign forces from Syria, particularly the Iranian-commanded and proxy forces from Syria.”

Russia has repeatedly thwarted international efforts for a political transition and dictator Assad’s eventual departure.

Early this month, James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria engagement, declared, referring to America’s stance on Syria:

Our position is (a) the territorial integrity of Syria under its present borders; (b) we will work with all political forces that are willing to recognize and accept the UN political process and the basic criteria of all of these UN initiatives since 2012 on Syria, which is no threat to the neighbors, no threat to the population, no use of chemical weapons, no support for terrorism, no mass slaughter of one’s own civilians, and accountability for war crimes. That’s our position with everybody and anybody.

Currently, the Iranian and Russian-backed Assad regime controls more territory than any other warring party in Syria.

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