Turkish President Abdullah Gul said military action against neighboring Syria should be an option only if diplomatic efforts fail to spur President Bashar al-Assad to surrender chemical weapons he used on civilians.
“Military action is the last resort,” Gul said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” show. “But what we insisted, there should be a comprehensive political strategy first. I think this is missing from the very beginning.”
The administration of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has backed the Syrian rebels in their efforts to topple Assad, whose forces conducted an Aug. 21 sarin nerve gas attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people. President Barack Obama said last week in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York that there “must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime” is keeping its commitments to give up chemical weapons.
Gul said “we should not fool ourselves” that efforts to get Assad to abandon chemical weapons will work without the threat of military force to implement his agreements.
“If it’s going to be real cleaning, that will be wonderful,” Gul said, according to a transcript provided by CNN. “That will be good for everyone. But if it’s going to be given some time, that at the end, still there will be some chemical weapons there, so that it would be a loss of time.”
The two-year civil war between forces loyal to Assad and Syrian rebels has taken at least 100,000 lives and created more than 1.5 million refugees, according to UN estimates. Many of those fled across the 900-kilometer (560-mile) Turkish border and have been sheltered by the Turks.
The Syrian conflict “is not the problem of Turkey, first of all, but we are the neighbor,” Gul said. “What’s happening in Syria is having immediate consequences on Turkey.”
The UN Security Council unanimously approved on Sept. 27 a resolution agreeing to eliminate all of Syria’s toxic arsenal. The resolution lacks immediate consequences if the Assad regime fails to comply.
The resolution also doesn’t assign blame for the attack, which U.S., U.K. and French officials attribute to Assad. Syria’s ally Russia, which has used its Security Council veto power to protect Assad, has said rebels were responsible for the attack and blocked tougher wording in the resolution.