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2:13, 28 December 2017

Assad Should Go, Says Turkey’s Leader, Seeking Leverage as War Winds Down


Assad Must Go, Says Turkey’s Leader, Searching for Leverage as War Winds Down

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey’s leader denounced President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday as a terrorist mass murderer with no place in that country’s postwar future, scrapping a softened approach that Turkish officials had taken toward Mr. Assad in current years.

The statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came as Mr. Assad seemed more confident than ever that he has won the war and will remain Syria’s leader for the foreseeable future. It also came against the backdrop of maneuvering by a lot of powers — most notably Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s most essential allies — to influence the outcome of a devastating conflict that has reshaped Middle East politics.

1 of the initial leaders in the region to condemn Mr. Assad when the conflict began in 2011, Mr. Erdogan had in current months signaled a willingness to accept Mr. Assad’s political longevity.

The Turkish leader’s shift on Wednesday was a reminder of their hostility, coming as Mr. Assad has demonstrated higher swagger more than his grip from military gains over the previous year, largely with Russia’s aid.

In a new sign of his confidence, Mr. Assad even permitted a modest medical evacuation of civilians on Wednesday from one particular of the last rebel enclaves in the country, close to Damascus.

Mr. Erdogan appeared to be reminding Russia that it can’t dictate Syria’s future alone, specifically on troubles sensitive to Turkey, most notably these involving Syria’s Kurdish groups, which Turkey sees as enemies.

Russia on Tuesday stated that representatives of a semiautonomous Kurdish location in northeastern Syria would be permitted to take part in talks that Russia is hosting subsequent month — an inclusion opposed by Turkey.

“Assad, I am saying this loud and clear, is a terrorist who spreads state terrorism,” Mr. Erdogan said at a joint news conference with the Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in Tunis. “Would the Syrian men and women like to see a person like this stay in charge?”

In remarks quoted by Turkish news agencies, Mr. Erdogan also said: “It is absolutely not possible to move ahead with Assad in Syria. For what? How could we embrace the future with the president of a Syria who killed close to 1 million of its citizens?”

Furious over the insult, Syria’s Foreign Ministry known as Mr. Erdogan a terrorist supporter who bore “prime duty for the bloodshed in Syria.”

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands — there are no dependable figures — along with upending roughly half of Syria’s prewar population and contributing to a migration crisis that has reverberated about the globe. At least 5.4 million Syrians are refugees and a lot more than six million are internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Russia and Iran have often backed Mr. Assad, while Turkey supports some Syrian rebel groups. Regardless of their variations, the 3 nations have been collaborating on diplomacy aimed at ending the war.

All 3 also have been jockeying for position in the country’s post-conflict future, even as their efforts to finish the fighting have proved only partly successful.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement appeared to signal much more of a challenging negotiating stance than a rupture with Russia, which has been enjoying an improved partnership with Turkey, a NATO member. Even as Mr. Erdogan spoke, his government in Ankara was finalizing a $two.five billion deal to obtain Russian S-400 missile systems.

It is possible the Russians welcomed Mr. Erdogan’s tough line toward Mr. Assad, simply because they want to play a major role in any peace deal. That means delivering an frequently recalcitrant Mr. Assad to negotiations.

Individuals being taken to hospitals in Damascus as part of a medical evacuation of Eastern Ghouta.CreditAbdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Pictures

A primary issue in between Russia and Turkey has involved Syria’s Kurds. Mr. Erdogan has made clear lately that preventing them from sustaining a semiautonomous location bordering Turkey has become a larger priority than toppling Mr. Assad.

But Moscow has been eager to include Kurdish groups in peace talks. It has won greater inclusion for them in the United Nations-backed talks in Geneva — although not through the separate Kurdish delegation that the Kurds wanted — and now has invited several Kurdish representatives to Sochi, the southern Russia resort town exactly where talks that Moscow calls a Syrian “national dialogue” will supposedly be held in late January.

Turkey, by contrast, had hoped that Russia and Iran would use their leverage to ostracize the Kurds and exclude them from these talks.

“It hasn’t worked properly,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria professional at the Washington Institute for Close to East Policy, said of Turkey’s effort on the Kurds. Insistence on blunting Kurdish energy in Syria, he mentioned, “takes the limelight in Turkey.”

A preceding try to convene talks in Sochi, in November, failed when Turkey withdrew more than objections to Kurdish participation.

The planned January meeting has also been broadly snubbed by Mr. Assad’s Syrian opponents. Forty rebel groups declared Tuesday that they would not take part.

Prior to the Arab revolts of 2011, relations in between Syria and Turkey had been neighborly, along a border that stretches a lot more than 500 miles. But six months into the Syrian uprising — which started with political protests met with a harsh security crackdown — Mr. Erdogan broke with Mr. Assad, saying he need to step down.

Mr. Erdogan then went on to finance Syrian rebel groups and later allowed foreign recruits to the Islamic State and other jihadist militant groups to stream via Turkey into Syria.

But the Syrian war has taken a toll on Turkey, which is housing far more than three million refugees and has suffered deadly attacks by the Islamic State and Kurdish groups.

Quickly right after Russia began its air campaign on behalf of Mr. Assad’s government in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane. Russia retaliated with sanctions that have been devastating for Turkish trade and tourism.

Turkey’s antipathy toward the Kurds, oddly, is partly responsible for the reconciliation in Turkish-Russian relations and a Turkish shift away from insistence that Mr. Assad have to go.

As Russian air power severely weakened Syria’s rebel forces, Turkey was prepared to temper its assistance for them in exchange for Russia’s assent to a Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria, where Turkey could block Kurdish expansion.

Mr. Erdogan’s condemnation of Mr. Assad on Wednesday came as the Syrian leader appeared to let a humanitarian breakthrough, albeit a tiny 1, in the besieged Syrian rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, residence to about 400,000 folks and the only significant rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria said on Wednesday that right after protracted negotiations, it had been capable to start health-related evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

The enclave has been targeted by Mr. Assad’s forces, and the United Nations has pleaded for his government to enable for the evacuation of about 500 individuals, like youngsters with cancer.

The Syrian American Medical Society stated 4 individuals had been taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for healthcare evacuation, with the remainder to be evacuated over the coming days.

Nada Homsi and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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Published at Thu, 28 Dec 2017 00:15:57 +0000


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