Thursday night, Aug. 11, US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan agreed to set Syrian President Bashar Assad the deadline of Aug. 27for extinguishing the popular uprising against his rule and starting to implement genuine democratic reforms. This decision followed Erdogan's report to Obama on the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's six-hour conversationwith Assad Tuesday, Aug. 9.
debkafile reports that Assad apparently convinced his Turkish guest that, with a free hand, he would finish off the revolt in 10 to 15 days and then get down to introducing political reforms including free elections with full opposition participation. If he went back on his word, then Obama and Erdogan would talk again about a possible US-Turkish military operation in Syria. They decided to trust Assad "one last time" regardless of his broken promises in the past.
Our Washington sources report exclusively that Davutoglu covered six main points in his talk with Assad:
1. The Syrian ruler asserted with complete confidence that the protest would be over in 10-15 days;
2. He has no illusions about the uprising disappearing for good and expects further outbreakst at least until the end of next year.
3. He promised to forestall fresh flare-up by instituting genuine reforms.
4. After their advisers left the room, Assad showed the Turkish foreign minister intelligence materials with documents and photos as evidence that the rebels fighting his regime were Islamic extremists, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda. He said that if they carried the day in Syria they would move on to Turkey. He therefore asked Ankara for more patience to allow him to subdue these forces.
This was a reference to Erdogan's statement last Saturday, Aug. 6, that Turkey's patience with Syrian brutality was "running thin."
5. The Syrian ruler asked for an assurance that Ankara "would not to use Syria for a Turkish (and therefore NATO) campaign against Iran."
In the background of this demand was a comment Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin made on Aug. 5 that NATO was planning a military campaign against Syria to help overthrow the Assad regime "with the long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran."
6. Turning to soft soap, Assad said earnestly that he would rather see Turkish than Iranian influence in Iraq and offered to work with Ankara (and through Turkey the US) to achieve this end.
This was a transparent attempt to con Washington into believing he was willing to drive the Iranians out of Iraq by pandering to its long-held illusion that if the Americans tried hard enough, they could separate him from his foremost ally and prop.
After Obama and Erdogan agreed on their next Syrian steps, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a CBS interviewer Thursday that US policy now hinges on "building the chorus of international condemnation" to make things clear to Assad. Even then, she did tell him to go – only, "Well, I think we've been very clear in what we have said about his loss of legitimacy."
The Secretary of State mentioned China, Brazil and India in the context of her "international chorus." Our Washington sources report she was basing her remark on Erdogan's undertaking to bring the three powers on board for UN Security Council authorization of NATO intervention in Syria if the US goes along with his plan for a two-week respite for Assad to finish the job and he breaks his word on reforms.
Surely the president had not forgotten that Erdogan tried this stunt less than a year ago when he failed to harness the same trio for useful intercession in the Iranian nuclear crisis.
debkafile notes: The Syrian ruler has finagled a free hand for intensifying his crackdown on dissent with an unabashed ferocity few tyrants can match. He is trusted to keep his side of a bargain despite an exceptionally bad record in keeping his word and truth-telling. No one is yet prepared to cut down this world sponsor of terrorists, some of whom were let loose to kill Americans in Iraq year after year. Today, he is trampling his opposition into the dust along with every universal value.
Washington would still rather believe he is a reformer than force him out of power.
A minor incident this week showed how easily he pulls the wool over the eyes of his willing dupes.
Tuesday, Assad invited the Turkish minister and reporters (no foreign correspondents wanted in Syria) to see for themselves that he was pulling his tanks out of Hama (after their guns had brutalized protesters for weeks). None were allowed to leave the official vehicles (lest they see whole sections of a major city reduced to rubble).
As soon as Davutoglu flew out,the tanks rolled back into the city.
On the ground meanwhile, Turkish papers reported Friday Aug. 12 that Ankara had called up reserves and transferred them to the Syrian border to deal with a new and heavy influx of Syrian refugees. "An animal quarantine center has also been set up," said one report, "as Turkey expects not only people but also animals to cross the border in case of a NATO strike on Syria."