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Has Turkey Distanced Itself From Syria?

Early on in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s premiership, he bent over backwards not only to repair Turkey’s traditionally dicey relations with Syria, but also to promote Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Erdoğan, for example, invited Bashar to vacation in Turkey as Erdoğan’s personal guest, and when tensions rose between Syria and Lebanon during Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, Erdoğan put Turkey more in Syria’s camp than in Lebanon’s.

Things appeared to turn, however, as Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on demonstrators accelerated and grew steadily bloodier. Erdoğan on several occasions gave Syria ultimatums to stop and reform or face a cut-off of Turkey’s ties. Too often in Western capitals, Turkey seeks benefit from such rhetoric no matter what the reality of its policy. There was the case, for example, of the forcible return allegedly by Turkey of a Syrian opposition defector to Syria. Now, despite the crackdown and Turkish ultimatums, a Turkish minister is assuring the public that trade with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is actually increasing. According to a Turkish wire service:

 Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan has said Turkey’s trade with Syria continues to increase. Commenting on Syria’s decision to ban import of products that have more than a 5 percent customs duty, Çağlayan said yesterday that Syria has lifted the ban, and thus, Turkey’s exports to Syria maintained the same level with last year. “We have a serious amount of products shipping to the Arabian Peninsula via Syria,” he said.

 One of the reasons why it is so important the United States stands up for principle is so few other countries are willing to do so.


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