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International Relations

Turkey presses Obama for help in Syria

After the presidential vote in the US, Turkey is hoping for Washington to get more involved in Syria. But Obama is not likely to fulfill all of Turkey's expectations.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a flight to Indonesia when he heard of Barack Obama's election victory. He praised the US President as a dependable partner for Turkey - and added a list of requests for Obama's second term in office.

Due to the lengthy election campaign, the Turkish government had not put much pressure on the US concerning the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria, Erdogan said after arriving in Bali. That's about to change: the Turkish prime minister pressed the US to adopt a "totally different" attitude in Syria.

Apparently, Turkish and American military leaders have already discussed deploying Patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria. While Erdogan emphasized that his country has not requested a missile shipment from its NATO allies, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared Patriot missiles might be used to protect NATO member Turkey from a spillover of the conflict from Syria.

Safe zones

Syrian refugees at a camp in Reyhanli, Turkey

More than 100,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey

According to Turkish media reports, the Patriot plans are not so much about protecting Turkish territory as they are about creating a no-fly zone over northern Syria. The Syrian opposition has repeatedly blamed Syrian air force operations for its lack of success in the fight against Bashar Assad's troops. The US and Turkey are therefore considering deployment of anti-aircraft missiles as a deterrent to Syrian aircraft beyond the border.

In this way, a stretch of land up to 60 kilometers wide south of the Turkish-Syrian border could become a prohibited zone for Syrian fighter jets and helicopters. Media reports say Turkish fighter aircraft patrolling the border would reinforce the deterrent effect.

If the plan works, at least some of the approximately 112,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey could return to Syria without risking their lives. And Syrian rebels would have the chance to stabilize "freed" regions in Syria, thus allowing the emergence of a protective zone without a UN mandate.

Cornering Assad

The advantage of the plan for the US and Turkey is that it will allow them to increase pressure on Assad without requiring foreign troops to intervene directly in Syria - and without giving Syria's ally Russia the chance to prevent the move via a UN veto.

American weapons deliveries to Syrian rebels will become more probable, in any case, because the Obama administration no longer has to avoid scaring away potential voters by involvement in a Mideast country.

Washington's efforts to restructure the political wing of the Syrian opposition also serve the goal of closing in on Assad. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week prompted the Syrian National Congress, formed in exile, to reorganize itself and pay more attention to the interests of the opposition in Syria.

No about-face expected

Erdogan addressing members of parliament

Premier Erdogan is pressing Obama anew

But the Erdogan administration can't expect US policy in Syria, until now rather reserved, to flip 180 degrees. Direct military intervention is out of the question. And even American backing for allied nations to take military action, such as in Libya during 2011, is questionable in light of the strength of Syria's air force.

In the end, the conflict in Syria doesn't have much to do with the US, wrote Kadri Gürsel, a columnist in the Turkish "Milliyet" newspaper. And that's apparently what's important to Obama, and why he would resist pressure of US partners in the region to head into a "war of unknown outcome" in Syria, Gürsel thinks.

If that's the case, Erdogan will be disappointed in its high expectations for a "very different" US approach in Syria.

DW.DE