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    In this Sunday, July 26, 2015, file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, Syria.

    Scholar Explains Why Assad's Possible Ouster Might Deal a Heavy Blow to Turkey

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    Washington is trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and the other two Syrian ceasefire guarantors – Russia and Iran, Turkish academic Hasan Unal told Sputnik, explaining how Bashar al-Assad's possible ouster may nullify the results of Ankara's Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.

    The US and its European allies are seeking to undermine the Astana process by winning over Ankara, Hasan Unal, the head of the department of international relations at Atilim University in Ankara, told Sputnik Turkey.

    "Effective interaction and consideration of processes vitally important for Syria and the region in the course of the talks between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran have deeply troubled Western forces — the United States, France and Britain, so that they decided to destroy the Astana format by trying to attract Ankara on their side… by the anti-Assad rhetoric," Unal explained.

    According to the Turkish academic, Turkey is the weakest element in the Russia-Iran-Turkish triumvirate, as the country's ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party remains highly critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For their part, Moscow and Tehran are unlikely to change their strategic course in Syria, despite the pressure from the US-led coalition.

    Following the April 14 joint missile strike on Syria by the US, France and the UK, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the coalition's military action, stressing that it was a strong message to President Assad.  

    Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry rushed to share its "suspicions" about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on April 7.

    "We strongly condemn the attack and we have the strong suspicion it was carried out by the regime, whose record on the use of chemical weapons is known by the international community," the ministry stated on April 8.

    Turkey's "shift" came after Erdogan, Russian President Putin and their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani met in Ankara on April 4 to discuss the Syrian crisis. The leaders of the countries emphasized the necessity to preserve Syria's integrity and sovereignty and to continue the fight against all terrorist groups on the ground.

    Unal highlighted that if the West succeeds in ousting Bashar al-Assad, it will bring to naught Turkey's efforts to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish entity in northern Syria.

    "Under the current circumstances, the idea of removing Assad from power seems extremely dubious," the Turkish scholar said.  "In case the position of the Syrian central authorities weakens, the country will be divided. This, in turn, will reduce to nothing the successes achieved by Turkey during Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, as it will pave the way for the inclusion of the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) Kurdish structure [in northern Syria] in the international system."

    The academic stressed that although Ankara continues to use harsh rhetoric toward Damascus, it remains committed to the Astana format and its guarantors — Russia and Iran. According to Unal, this indicates Turkey's intention to maintain Syria's territorial integrity.

    Unal believes that the Turkish leadership needs to hold dialogue with Damascus. He presumed that Ankara's unwillingness to sever ties neither with the US, nor with Russia and Iran, indicates that Turkey wants to reduce tensions and prevent a new war in the region.

    "The desire to prevent a war means that [Turkey] doesn't support attempts to overthrow [Bashar] Assad," Unal suggested. "And this is a positive signal. During his [April 14] speech Erdogan, however, once again used ruthless rhetoric against Assad. But I suppose that such [verbal] attacks will continue until the presidential elections in Turkey. These statements should be seen as an internal political tool to influence the electorate."

    The academic believes that after the elections the Turkish leadership may make some steps toward starting a dialogue with the Syrian authorities. "This would be the most correct and reasonable move on the part of Turkey," Unal highlighted.

    The Astana format of negotiations on Syria was launched by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran in December 2016 to create a platform for dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition forces. Within the new peace format, Turkey, Russia and Iran brokered a nationwide ceasefire plan for Syria. The UN hailed the political effort of the guarantors of the ceasefire.

    Within the framework of the Astana talks, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to create five de-escalation zones in Syria, thus paving the way for the political process and peaceful resolution of the crisis.

    The views and opinions expressed by Hasan Unal are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Syrian Kurds, security, cooperation, airstrike, Operation Olive Branch, Astana talks on Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield, Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Iran, Turkey, United States, Russia
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