GRF Member, Permanent Representative (F) of Turkey to the United Nations and to NATO, Ambassador Ümit Pamir’s interview was published in the daily Hürriyet on September 10, 2018.
Please find below the excerpt from Permanent Representative (F) of Turkey to the United Nations and to NATO, Ambassador Ümit Pamir’s interview with daily Hürriyet on the İdlib operation, balance of power in Syria and Turkey’s interests on September 10, 2018.
‘Constructively Ambiguous’ Text
Tehran Summit was televised live. Have you come across such practice in your experience of 42 years?
No, never before. Maybe they wanted the positions of every party to be clear. I think it worked.
In your opinion, which of the 12 articles of the final declaration will be discussed the most?
Upon reading Article 2 and Article 4, one sees that they do not protect our interests, but are open to interpretation by all parties. This is called ’constructive ambiguity’.
Only One Country In a Position to Lose Big
President Erdoğan’s ceasefire offer was countered by a request of disarmament. What is the diplomatic significance here?
Russians and Assad think, "Let the opponents of the regime disarm, not us." They want to remain free. Let’s look at the actors in Idlib: YPG, HTS (Haya Tahrir Shaam), Shiite militias, regime opponents...Neither Iran nor Russia nor Assad have any problems in terms of time. They see it as to their advantage. They believe that Americans may go back in a while, and they can get rid of the opposition by then. YPG, on the other hand, is of the conviction, "While the US is here and we have the upper hand, I’ll take whatever I can. Our bargaining powers decrease by the day." As you can recall, Öcalan had a project of a confederational system. YPG says, "We would like to have a confederation in Syria. I shall ensure safety in my territory with my militia." But Assad is not likely to accept such an offer because although occupied by Kurds for centuries, Assad sees that territory as belonging to Arabs. Here again neither Iran nor Russia nor Assad have any problems regarding this matter. The only party here with various problems and in a position to lose big is Turkey.
Turkey Should Be In Touch with Assad
In my opinion, Turkey should contact Assad and tell him that the autonomy he shall grant to this region should not pose a threat to its security. The same thing should be put to the US. Assad needs to say to YPG, "We shall negotiate the terms of the autonomy to be granted to you, but it shall never be the democratic confederation you envision. In any event, you have to cease relations with the PKK.” Lack of relations between the PKK and the YPG would benefit Turkey as well as Syria. We have to direct a similar request to the US and Russia. A YPG in close cooperation with the PKK may, one day, elevate the request for autonomy to a demand for a state. This will not sit well with Assad. That Russia and Iran shall back YPG to the very end, would not be an inaccurate guess.
This matter was underlined numerous times by President Erdoğan. He said that although DAESH no longer presented a danger, the US continues to support another terrorist organization in the region. Will the PKK gain the power it lost in Manbij?
Not at the moment. We have to take into consideration the following matters in the US’s perspective on YPG: they may have the opinion that they have betrayed Kurds over and over, in the Iraq-Iran War and in the Gulf War, when Kurds were on their side in 2003, and thus the US owes them. If our perspective is correct, we have the right to tell the US, "You may be backing the Kurds, giving arms to YPG; however, any nascence here shall in no way pose a threat to my well-being." That is, we should insist that the US influence on YPG be non-discomforting to Turkey, and that it cease all relations with the PKK. Similarly we need to tell Assad that one day it may be problem for him, too.
Iran, Russia and the US are Winners in Syria
Will we tell Assad through Russia?
We can tell him directly using secret diplomacy. It can be done if you want to. There is no way of knowing what Russia will tell Assad. Russia wants to strengthen its position in Syria by backing Assad. We have to consider the fact that Russia will eventually want to play the Kurdish card, even if it is in the long run. The PKK has liaison offices in Russia. That is, Assad and the US are not the only ones holding the Kurdish card against Turkey. Iran and Russia do it as well. Therefore we have to tell Assad what we want directly.
Would any attack on Idlib, directed towards elimination of terrorist groups, undermine the Astana process?
Certainly. Russia is already busy bombing the place despite having undersigned Astana…We have to consider that Russia will be very influential in the shaping of the new constitution. And we can assume that Assad shall acquiesce to Russia, who claims to have not left them alone. We have to look at it this way: Under the current circumstances, who wins in Syria? Did Iran win? Yes. It was already in Iraq, and now its influence in Syria will increase. Did Russia? Of course. From now on, there will always be a formidable Soviet influence in Syria. Did the US? To a certain degree. They will have won if the oil regions remain under the control of the YPG. That leaves Turkey. That is why, in my opinion, we have to expedite the process of a political solution.
What does the US want in Idlib and why does Iran oppose it?
The US would like to go down in history as having lent some sort of support to the Kurds. As is known, there is oil in the Kurdish regions. Of course, the US does not want Assad nor Russia nor Iran in control of the Middle East. The US wants to have a footing there, which the Kurds provide. Iran and Russia would of course rather have the US out of there. Then, Syria will be easy pickings for them.
‘Strategic Patience’ Required
Leaders at the summit were all critical of the US. The US under Trump is starting to give the globe a hard time. But he himself is not relaxed, either. The “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration" article by a high-ranking White House official is case in point, right?
There are those in American institutions with common sense and the ability to look at the world through a broader perspective. They demonstrate resistance as well. However, I have doubts about the longevity of such resistance and its effect on Trump. He is an unpredictable person. He threatens to devastate the North Korean leader and then turns around and gives him a hug. He behaves just like a bully. He says, "I am the strongest country in the world in economic and military terms. I do as my interest dictates and punish anyone who doesn’t." Perhaps strategic patience needs to be shown, which is what Europe does. Channels for dialogue need to be kept open because not everyone in the US is adversarial to Turkey. There are people who trust Turkey. The world is not what it used to be. All countries suffer from unhappiness and restlessness triggered by various reasons. And, unfortunately, populist leaders who will not shy away from abusing such unhappiness. They view foreign policy as an extension of domestic policy. This leads to mistakes.
The President pointed to the UN for a solution. Having worked as a representative in New York, do you think the UN can come up with a solution?
As you are aware, there previously was the Geneva process. When no solution was achieved, a renewed search for solution began, resulting finally in the Astana process. I do not think that moving on to the UN stage would make any sense because there are different actors in Syria with definite sides and targets. Thus, UN would have no effect there. As such, the matter is out of the bounds of the UN and depends on the balance to be achieved among various power holders. In any case, the Astana process needs to continue.
Reinforced Cooperation, Not Strategic Partnership
Did Russia act in harmony with strategic partnership in Tehran?
It looks like we really like the term ’strategic partner’. We have also used it for the US. French President Macron offered Turkey ’strategic partnership’ within the framework of the EU. However, ’strategic partnership’ means two countries backing each other up in vital issues. The US has not backed us on neither the Kurdish issue nor Cyprus nor the Armenian issue. A proper example of strategic partnership is that in between the US and Israel. We would be better off using the term ’reinforced cooperation’. We cannot see Russia as a strategic partner as well, with its actions in Idlib. Turks unfortunately suffer from a weird sense of sentimentality rooted in the past. We love our partners but rip them to pieces upon a tiny mistake. We connect fast and give up fast. And when you overdo the connection bit, your partner thinks you are dependent on them. Then when you get angry, you disconnect completely. Your partner is shocked, naturally. Sentimentality should be avoided.
Beware of Cyber Attacks!
I would like to raise, with our NATO allies, the issue of cyber threats which have not yet been addressed adequately... North Korea, China, Russia, Estonia, the US, Britain... A number of them have infiltrated the systems of every country. They can disable them all whenever they want to. We can deal with possible cyber-attacks and take precautions in cooperation with our Western allies. Turkey must cooperate with the West. The matter should be taken very seriously.
Back to Pre-2009
Recently there has been a rapprochement with EU. What would you like to say about this?
I think Turkey should go back to where it was before 2009, at the least. Turkey used to be a country that practiced liberal economy, rule of law and democracy, tried to emulate European norms, with a bright promising future. What we need to do is not necessarily be Western, that would be artificial. We could be as a Western country but...
Do you think the West has a message in that regard?
Trump’s words on NATO being passé and exiting NATO if necessary have led to concerns on the part of Europeans, Germany and France especially. Their confidence in the US’s security umbrella was shaken, and they would like to build a self-sufficient security system. The dominant thinking is "Following Brexit, England has to be kept within Europe in terms of defense. Otherwise, we would be weak." Similarly Turkey, despite not being an EU member, stands as a country to be annexed for defense purposes. Plus, of course, we need to keep in mind that Turkey is a huge market.