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Turkey, an Unhelpful Ally?

In a critical article published in the New York Times, Halil M. Karaveli, a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, argues that Turkish policy in Syria has been unhelpful and calls on the U.S. administration to “reassess the assumption that Turkey is playing a constructive role in ending the violence in Syria.” Karaveli argues that “Turkey is part of the problem,” and that “it is exacerbating Syria’s sectarian strife, rather than contributing to a peaceful and pluralistic solution.”

President Obama said in a recent interview, “I want to commend Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish government for playing a leadership role in trying to end to the violence and begin a political transition in Syria.” (Read the English transcription of the Milliyet interview here.) Karaveli argues that “this praise is undeserved.”

He writes, “The United States must beware of doing the bidding of Sunni powers — especially Turkey — that are advancing sectarian agendas that run counter to America’s interest of promoting pluralism and tolerance. Left unchecked, rising sectarianism could lead to a dangerous regional war.”

Michael Koplow, program director of the Israel Institute and a Georgetown University PhD candidate,

disagrees: “I don’t think Turkey’s intentions are quite so nefarious.” In a blog post entitled “Is Turkey Really An Unhelpful Ally?” Koplow writes, “Ankara’s motives are complex in this case, but there is no reason to believe that it does not genuinely want Assad gone for humanitarian, security, and stability reasons, rather than simply out of a desire to promote Sunni hegemony within Syria and the greater region.”

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Turkish officials in Ankara this week and Syria will figure prominently in the discussions.