Turkish FM says Ankara reluctatant to use force, but preparing itself for ‘any scenario’
Turkey on Tuesday raised the option of military intervention in neighboring Syria while Russia rejected even an arms embargo as Damascus tries to stifle anti-government protests.
Highlighting divisions among foreign powers on how to deal with the bloodshed in Syria, Turkey’s foreign minister said Ankara was reluctant to take a military option but was ready for “any scenario”.
Western powers have long ruled out any Libyan-style military intervention in Syria to halt the crackdown, in which more than 3,500 people are believed have been killed in eight months.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested military force remained an option, albeit apparently a remote one, if Assad did not heed calls to halt the violence.
“If the oppression continues, Turkey is ready for any scenario. We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary. The Syrian regime has to find a way of making peace with its own people,” he told Kanal 24 TV.
Davutoglu also raised the possibility of a buffer zone if the violence provoked a flood of refugees, an idea used by Ankara inside northern Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991. While NATO bombing of Libya was crucial in helping rebels to oust Muammar Gadhafi, Western countries are more cautious about Syria, which lies at the heart of Middle East conflicts, borders Israel and Lebanon and maintains close ties with Iran.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected calls at the United Nations for an arms embargo against Syria, saying that a similar move against Libya had proved one-sided, helping rebels to topple Gadhafi in August.
“We know how that worked in Libya when the arms embargo only applied to the Libyan army. The opposition received weapons, and countries like France and Qatar publicly spoke about it without shame,” he told a news conference.
Moscow, which has also been critical of further sanctions slapped on Syria by Western and Arab League states, has close political and strategic relations with Assad’s government and has been one if its main arms suppliers.
Alluding to Western powers and the Arab League, Lavrov said it was time to “stop using ultimatums” to pressure Damascus and repeated Russia’s calls for dialogue between the government and its foes, whom Moscow says share blame for the bloodshed.
“For the most part, armed groups are provoking the authorities. To expect the authorities to close their eyes to this is not right,” Lavrov said.
A UN commission of inquiry said on Monday that Syrian military and security forces had committed crimes against humanity including murder, torture and rape, and called for an arms embargo on Syria.
Russia teamed up with China last month to veto a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad’s government. Both countries have oil concessions in Syria while Russia also has a little-used naval base there and provides military advisers to the Syrian army.
“The longer what is happening in Syria goes on, the more it troubles us,” added Lavrov. Moscow has urged Assad to implement reforms but rejects calls for his resignation and accused Western nations of trying to set the stage for armed intervention.
Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia’s total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the Russian defense think-tank CAST.
Davutoglu said the possible scenarios included setting up a buffer zone to contain any mass influx of Syrian refugees.
“If tens, hundreds of thousands of people start advancing towards the Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey borders, not only Turkey but the international community may be required to take some steps such as buffer zone. We don’t want that to happen but we must consider and work on that scenario,” he said.
The Turkish army set up a security buffer zone inside northern Iraq during in 1991 and has maintained small detachments there ever since.
A former friend of Syria, Turkey has fallen out with Assad and has said it will implement some sanctions agreed by the Arab League over the weekend. Davutoglu said he was making the same mistakes as Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein by unleashing oppression that only fueled more opposition.
However, he said Damascus still had a chance to accept international observers proposed by the Arab League.
Another Turkish minister said Ankara would conduct trade with the Middle East via Iraq if the violence worsened in Syria.
Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Transport Minister Binali Yildirim on Tuesday as saying that Ankara would open new border gates with Iraq if necessary.
Yildirim said the sanctions would not harm the Syrian people. “We plan to conduct transit shipments through new border gates in Iraq if the conditions in Syria worsen,” Yildirim said.
Turkey will selectively impose those sanctions announced by the Arab League to avoid harming the Syrian people, the Turkish newspaper Sabah reported on Tuesday.
The Arab League imposed the sanctions on Sunday and the European Union weighed in one day later.
Sabah said Syrian government accounts at the Turkish central bank will be suspended, official sales to the Syrian state will be halted and a travel ban will be imposed on Assad and his family.
However, civil aviation flights will not be halted and Turkish Airlines services to Damascus will continue. It did not identify sources for the story.