Spotlight: Decades-old Turkish-Syrian pact seen as way to resolve security issues

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-31 04:28:43|Editor: yan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- More than twenty years after it was signed, a landmark security agreement between Turkey and Syria has been suggested as a way to resolve the two countries' security issues amid a plan to create a safe zone in northern Syria.

The Adana agreement, named after the city where it was signed in southern Turkey in October 1998, was mentioned by both Turkish and Russian presidents during their meeting on Jan. 23.

Putin highlighted the fact that the 20-year-old agreement between Ankara and Damascus that normalized ties for two decades before the 2011 conflict is still binding.

He said to his Turkish counterpart that the treaty could serve as an instrument to calm Ankara's concerns over the presence of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which Turkey views as an existential threat.

The Russian move comes in the uncertain aftermath of the United State's decision to pull out militarily from Syria and the possible creation of a safe zone in Syria by Washington and Ankara to combat the terrorist threat along Turkey's borders.

The Russian leader's reminder of the Adana pact has been largely considered by analysts as a move to drag Ankara and Damascus to the path of rapprochement after years of bitter resentment.

"Russia's intentions are to try to draw Turkey to the negotiation table with Damascus saying that if Ankara wants to achieve success in its fight against PKK/YPG (Turkish and affiliated Syrian Kurdish fighters) it should communicate with the (Syrian) regime," Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Xinhua.

He however said that the fact that Ankara has severed its ties with Damascus and supported rebel groups to topple the regime makes the Russian proposal difficult to revive.

"Turkey is not ready to restart relations (with Syria)," as the NATO country is involved in military and administrative peacekeeping operations in Idlib and Afrin provinces in northern Syria with the direct support of armed groups opposed to the Syrian regime, Oytun pointed out.

"Turkey, I think, would be more interested with the American idea of a buffer zone," that Ankara wants to control, added this specialist.

The Turkish strongman has cut all ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad since the start of the civil war in Syria eight years ago and called insistently for his removal from power.

The critical Adana agreement was signed at a time when relations between Turkey and Syria were highly strained and the neighbors were on the brink of a military conflict.

Ankara warned Damascus in no uncertain terms that sheltering Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who is now serving a life sentence in Turkey, and tolerating the activities of his armed movement against Turkish forces would result in war.

Syria chased the PKK leader and closed PKK camps, thus the pact worked and averted a war dreaded by Arab nations.

Now it seems that Moscow wants to push Ankara to establish a dialogue and even a cooperation with the Syrian regime in order to address its security concerns in northern Syria against the Kurdish militia People's Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

Ankara has long been preparing to launch a new crossborder operation against this U.S.-supported faction, instrumental in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, threatening despite U.S. and Russian warnings to go on with its plans.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pointed out in a televised interview to some "indirect contacts" with the Syrian regime. But Erdogan made it clear on the weekend that his government will not establish "high level contacts" with Damascus in the near future and that "Turkey doesn't need an invitation from anyone (to enter Syria)."

"Putin's goal is to encourage Turkey to open a dialogue with the Syrian regime and create in time a mechanism where they could work together," a western diplomat told Xinhua on the condition of anonymity.

"What Moscow really wants is that Syrian regime forces seize control of the areas controlled by the YPG following the U.S.-exit to counter the U.S. idea of a safe zone under Turkish control," this source added.

An argument echoed by Orhan who said that "Turkey will rather continue to work with the U.S. and insist for the establishment of a safe zone (...) a move that Russia doesn't support but is incapable to prevent."

Meanwhile Syrian Foreign Ministry said Saturday in a statement that it was ready to revive the 1998 security deal if Ankara pulled its troops out of the war-torn country and stopped backing rebels.

Turkey has carved a sphere of influence in an opposition-held enclave in northwestern Syria around Idlib province with the help of Arab rebels whom it backs. Its troops monitor a buffer zone in the province under a deal with Russia and Iran.

"In the end, both Russia and the U.S. are looking for a middle way; they don't want to lose Turkey, but on the other hand, they also don't wish to abandon the YPG," added Oytun Orhan, signaling that discussions regarding northern Syria will go on.