NATO chief to visit Turkey on Syria crisis following U.S.-led airstrikes
15 Apr 2018, 21:12
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will pay a visit to Turkey on Monday to meet Turkish leaders amid international tensions sparked by the U.S.-led coalition's air raids in Syria.
Stoltenberg is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar during his short visit in Ankara, Turkey's capital, to discuss Syrian crisis and some other topics, according to diplomatic sources.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry on Saturday welcomed U.S.-led air strikes in Syria, saying that they were an appropriate reaction to the suspected chemical attack against civilians.
Turkey is caught in the middle of a fight while its president seems to act as a mediator trying to de-escalate the situation that could lead to a wider global conflict.
"We have demanded sensitivity to be displayed by all coalition forces, particularly the U.S. and Russia. Current developments show that the tension is likely to be easing," Erdogan told reporters on Friday regarding his phone talks with his American and Russian counterparts, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, before the air raids.
After the raids, Erdogan also spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Ever since the suspected chemical weapons in Syria's Douma on April 7, Turkish leaders have made a series of statements condemning the attack, calling on the international community to act against this horror, and blaming regime forces of being behind it.
Erdogan criticized that the U.S. and Russia "rely on their military might and turn neighboring Syria into a wrestling ground." But he also emphasized that Turkey doesn't intend to give up its alliance with the U.S. nor its strategic relations with Russia to solve regional problems.
"Turkey has a unique position to be a mediator in this crisis because we are honest in our efforts to stop the bloodshed in our neighbor," said an official from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to Xinhua after the air raids in Syria.
He also insisted that the airstrikes would not disrupt the Astana process in Syria that was brokered last year between Moscow, Ankara and Teheran.
Turkey is caught in the heat of the Syrian crisis where it launched an offensive in late January in the northwest region of Afrin to root out a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, considered as a liability to its national security.
Moreover, Turkey hosts some 3.5 million displaced Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, announced on Saturday that the Incirlik airbase in southern province of Adana where U.S. serviceman deployed, was not used in the airstrikes on Syria.
Although Turkey has been a loyal NATO member since 1952, its growing defense cooperation with Moscow in recent years has sparked concerns in the block.
The Turkish-Russian cooperation includes a recent 2 billion U.S. dollars deal of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. Experts said that the S-400 deal came as a real blow to Ankara's ties with its traditional western allies.
At the same time, military collaboration with the U.S. has been scaled down amid very tumultuous tensions and differences over the Syrian war.
Turkish international relations expert, Professor Togrul Ismayil, told Xinhua that the recent strike would not change Turkey's policy in Syria.
"Turkey was to cooperate with NATO partners and Russia at the same time, even if there was a misconception in some Western circles that Ankara was shifting towards the East because of its strengthening cooperation with Russia," said Ismayil.
"This disagreement on Turkey's plan to augment its air defense from a non-NATO country comes at a moment when its relationship with prominent western countries hit new lows with every passing day," told Serkan Demirtas, Hurriyet Daily News commentator to Xinhua.
"All these factors support the NATO chief's portrayal of the S-400 problem with Turkey as a difficult issue, but at the same time, show that this could turn out to be a more difficult one," he added.
Turkey's relations with the U.S. and European countries have hit a rocky path since the failed coup of July 2016, after which an anti-western resentment has been fueled in the country amid disagreements on the way the Erdogan government handled the aftermath of the attempt, with a massive crackdown on suspected coup plotters.
The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, admitted that Turkey was stud in a dilemma, commenting that this period may present a difficult test for Ankara.
"On the one hand, there is the United States, which has built its policy on assuring Turkey's defeat in Syria for the past five years. On the other hand, there is Russia, whose cruelty has been tested and confirmed, but with whom partnership in the field and at the table has allowed for progress," the newspaper said.
According to some observers, the NATO head would urge Turkey to scrap the Russian S-400 missile deal, a move that Turkey is not expected to make.
"Turkey needs a modern air defense system for its national security, the S-400 won't be integrated to the NATO system (because of compatibility problems), but it will surely be a deterrent against rogue groups or countries which may constitute a ballistic threat to Turkey," said Ismayil.