As Turkey moves past last month’s election, the foreign policy challenges remain acute, particularly in Syria, and there is a looming confrontation with the United States over sanctions on Iran that might undo the recent progress toward the normalisation of U.S.-Turkish relations.
The foreign and security issue that will remain rhetorically at the top of the list is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), particularly that organisation’s branch in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). On the eve of the elections, Turkey appeared poised to attack the PKK at its historic headquarters in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. Whether that announcement was purely for political purposes or not, the main PKK base is now in Syria and Turkey’s options there are constrained by the United States.
A resolution of Manbij question will make little progress, either in repairing U.S.-Turkey relations or stabilising Syria after Islamic State (ISIS), unless it leads to a broader alteration in policy that strikes a more balanced U.S. posture between the PYD/PKK and Turkey. The turbulence in the Trump administration and proposals to head for the exit without coordinating with Turkey, would suggest that this strategic reset is unlikely, but the consolidation of Syria policy in the White House, away from the areas of the U.S. government most hostile to Turkey, could lead to such changes being implemented.
Crime and political fractiousness continue to trouble Turkish-occupied areas in northeastern (Euphrates Shield) and western Aleppo (Afrin), as does a nascent guerrilla war by the PYD, but there are noticeable advances in the administration of these territories.
The most immediate question in Syria for Turkey might prove to be Idlib, one of the “de-escalation zones” worked out in Astana between Turkey, Russia, and Iran.
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