ANKARA: Turkey’s foreign minister said Syria’s worsening war now posed a danger to all countries because President Bashar Assad’s government had been allowed to continue its “crimes” while jihadists from around the world flooded in to fight him.
Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters a robust international strategy including “real intelligence cooperation” and withdrawal of all foreign fighters was needed to end the conflict and help millions devastated by violence.
The crisis was “a threat to all,” he said in an interview, pointing to what he called the totalitarian nature of the Assad government and the presence of Al-Qaeda-linked armed groups.
He added that Damascus had in effect colluded with the militant rebel groups to fight moderate opposition factions. Syria has not responded to similar charges made in recent weeks and says it is leading international efforts against terrorism.
The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development AK Party is already reeling from graft allegations, civic protest, and a struggle for control of institutions with former Islamist allies that have turned against it.
But a long-simmering internal debate over Turkey’s policy on Syria and other Arab Spring countries is starting to boil up once more, as fears grow of blowback from Ankara’s support for Syrian rebels increasingly dominated by Islamist factions.
“The problem is not only for Turkey, the problem is for the region,” Davutoglu said Tuesday.
“Syria is becoming a risk for all European countries as well, because of the presence of these terrorist groups based on the power vacuum and because of the totalitarian and autocratic nature of the regime.”
“This is a threat to all of us.”
He said recent so-called Geneva II negotiations between Syria’s government and rebels had failed because Damascus ignored the basic premise of the talks – a U.N.-backed communiqué issued in Geneva in June 2012 – calling for a transitional government based on mutual consent.
“They didn’t want to talk on a transitional governing body,” Davutoglu said. “They wanted to focus on the threat of terrorism, which in fact was created by them.”
This, he said, was a failure of an international community that had not faced up to the gravity of the crisis and of its leadership’s war crimes.
He suggested Russia bore special responsibility by blocking effective action in the U.N. Security Council and by continuing to supply it with heavy weapons, actions that had emboldened Assad.
Davutoglu said he and Erdogan spoke recently to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Sochi Games. “Everybody says the only solution is a political solution,” he said, “but we have to be sincere and objective. Those who are supporting the regime by arms, heavy arms, they are on the side of a military option.”
“We must cooperate, all of us, in order to create a suitable security atmosphere ... That means working together to prevent any terrorist presence,” he said. All foreign fighters must leave, including Hebzollah, Iran’s proxy Shiite militia which are fighting alongside Assad’s forces.
A post-Assad Syria should have a new national army composed of moderate elements of the opposition and the Free Syrian Army, Davutoglu said, stressing Syria’s sectarian and ethnic mix – Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds – must be represented.
Unlike other uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the revolt in Syria had struggled to remove Assad because of the country’s complex religious mix and Assad’s strategic alliances with Iran and Russia, he said.
He said Assad had managed to survive because he had not been told by world powers where to stop.
“Some people claim Bashar is successful, because he continued to stay in power ... This is not a success, because he has all the power, he has an army, he has airports, he has Scud missiles, he has chemical weapons and he used everything.”