Will Turkey’s Rapprochement Move Include Egypt and Syria?

During the last month, Turkey has maneuvered to end damaging foreign policy disputes with Israel and Russia, but Egypt and Syria will be tougher nuts for Ankara to crack in its drive for regional rapprochement, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Since the military coup in 2013 that ousted president Mohamed Morsi, Turkey has downgraded its relation with Egypt.

In Syria, Turkey has made the exit of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for ending the more-than-five-year civil war that has seen some 2.7 million refugees flee to Turkey.

“But the latest appointment of Binali Yildirim -a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – as prime minister in May signified a more conciliatory approach to foreign policy after the aggressive stance of his predecessor Ahmet Davutoglu,” said the Daily Mail.

Yildirim told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ,”We will keep on increasing our friendships by observing the interests of our region and our country.”

Last month Turkey agreed on a normalization deal with Israel, following half a decade of downgraded ties due to the deadly storming of a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in May 2010.

Moreover, Ankara ended the diplomatic crisis with Russia after Erdogan sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, expressing regret over the downing of one of Moscow’s warplanes in November.

In its latest diplomatic overtures, Turkey seems to be returning back to its previous “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy that was adopted in the early years of Erdogan’s time as premier.

But after the ”Arab Spring”, Turkey had its hopes of finding friendly regimes by adopting what critics derided as a policy of “multiple problems with everyone”.

A Turkish official said on condition of anonymity, “Our default approach is to maintain good relations with everyone unless a conflict is inevitable.”

Regarding Syria, after the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011, Turkey opened a dialogue with Damascus, but Erdogan later became a fierce opponent of Assad, a leader who he had once courted as a friend.

Bur recently, Yildirim said in a headline-grabbing comment, “We have normalized ties with Israel and Russia. But I am sure that we will return to normal with Syria too.”

“There was no indication that this signaled a change in policy on Assad, which would represent a complete U-turn of the Turkish policy throughout the civil war that has been to back rebels. Officials say there is a distinction between Syria as a country and Assad,” reported the Daily Mail.

But in the recent weeks, there have been sporadic reports of a possible softening in Ankara’s position, although Turkey denied press speculation that Algeria was mediating contact.

Aaron Stein, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said, “Turkey’s softening on Assad” began last summer after Erdogan announced Assad could remain as president for up to six months while a political transition was finalized.

He said,”This policy… differed from Turkey’s previous insistence that Assad must leave at the beginning of the six-month timeframe.”

Previously, the Turkish government under Davutoglu had insisted that Assad’s days were numbered.

The main Istanbul-based Syrian opposition coalition says it has been assured by Ankara it still has Turkey’s full support.

The head of the Istanbul-based opposition National Coalition, Anas al-Abdeh said, “There is no change or shift in their policy towards the Syrian regime, their policy towards the Syrian people and revolution.”

Regarding the relation with Egypt, “observers say back-channel diplomacy, similar to that conducted with Israel, might be put into action to repair the rupture with Cairo, although Erdogan has so far ruled out reconciliation,” according to Daily Mail.

Saudi Arabia -which is rapidly emerging as one of Turkey’s closest allies under the rule of King Salman in January 2015 – is also keen to mend the relations between Cairo and Ankara.

Saudi Arabia with other Gulf countries has supported the ousting of Morsi, with its own ties with Ankara suffering as a result.

A senior ruling party official said this month that Ankara would soon dispatch a team to Egypt to help alleviate tensions. “God willing, a softening will take place with Egypt also,” Saban Disli said. But it was later denied.

In the same context, Aaron Stein said, “Saudi Arabia has been pushing both Turkey and Egypt to repair relations since March 2015, the same month that Turkey and Saudi Arabia repaired their relationship.”

He said, “Turkey is certainly recalibrating its foreign policy, but repairing relations with Egypt will continue to be a heavy lift.”