President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday reiterated Ankara's position on the removal of Syria's Bashar Assad, saying that no lasting peace can be achieved in Syria without his removal and that the president should have no place in the transitional government.
"Assad cannot be part of any transitional period ... the world should find a solution that does not involve Assad ... Syria's territorial integrity should be respected by other countries," President Erdoğan said in an interview with Reuters during his trip to New York for the 71st United Nations Summit.
Ankara has repeatedly voiced concerns over Assad remaining in power during a transitional government in Syria, arguing that a new leader selected by the people would be the only option in establishing an inclusive government and ending the nearly six-year-long bloodshed in the country.
"The future of Syria should be determined by its own people and nobody else. We have to decide, do we want a democratic regime reign in Syria or do we want another replica of a Baathist regime sustained for the future of Syria? Why this killer [Assad] is being backed is far beyond my comprehension, and this killer should not be supported and have power any longer," the president added.
The Assad regime has received both military and diplomatic support from Russia, Iran, and Lebanon, which has also affected Ankara's relations with these countries. The Assad issue has particularly affected Turkey's relations with Russia, especially after the downing of a Russian jet in November 2015. Despite the recent mending of strained diplomatic relations and repairing of economic ties, the Kremlin's insistence on keeping Assad as a player in Syria's future remains an unsolved issue between Ankara and Moscow.
The U.S. and Russia have been in talks for more than two years to draw a road map for the future of Syria, including a transitional government and an election period. However, they have not been able to establish a common ground, which would allow new steps to be taken in Syria.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Talha Köse, the chair of Political Science at Istanbul Şehir University, said the removal of the Assad issue will remain a bargaining chip between Ankara and Moscow.
"Turkey aims to include the moderate opposition in the transition and the future of Syria. For the moderate opposition to be included and achieve a legitimate position, Assad will have to go. Meanwhile Russia sees the opponents of Assad as terrorists, excluding the PYD, which they strategically keep at a distance due to the U.S. alliance with the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey foresees as transition without Assad, while Russia aims to maintain the status-quo in Syria. They will have to meet on common ground after negotiations, particularly when it comes to the length of the transition," Köse said.
Criticizing the states supporting Assad, President Erdoğan said: "No country around the world should or could assume such a big risk after so many lives were lost and actually they shouldn't assume such a big risk. Why do we insist in making sure he remains in power during the transition period?" He also added that the Syrian people are capable of electing another leader among themselves and called on the world to stop watching what is unfolding in Syria and urged the states supporting Assad to end the support.
Meanwhile, journalist and TRT World Managing Editor Resul Serdar Ataş said that Assad remaining in power is not red line per se for Russia. "Russia's main aim is to maintain a system in Syria that would allow it to protect its interests in the Mediterranean Sea basin and establish a geographic depth in the region against its rival United States. Iran is bolder when it comes to keeping Assad in power compared to Russia," Ataş said, adding that Russia's establishment of military bases in Syria is a reflection of its goal of being a powerful player in the Mediterranean region in addition to Moscow's aim of maintain its area of influence in the Black Sea region and Eastern Europe.
Commenting on the possibility of a role for Assad in the transitional government, Kyle W. Orton, a Middle East analyst with the Henry Jackson Society, said that Assad's presence will further escalate terror activities in Syria.
"There is no lasting solution to Syria's instability that leaves Bashar Assad in place. There are large sections of Syria's population that will never feel safe to lay down arms while Assad remains in power, and with a good reason, which will leave space for actors like al-Qaida to present themselves as guardians of the people's interests and security. A de-escalation of the conflict and a political settlement that ends the violence and isolates the extremists is only possible once Assad has gone," he said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee Chief Coordinator Riad Hijab also underscored that the ending of humanitarian crisis and terror in Syria is linked to the Assad's removal from power.
"The international community must understand that reaching a political solution and a political transition, as well as ending the flow of the refugees and the terror events, is not possible until Assad is held accountable for violations of international law," Hijab said in New York, during a meeting organized by Saudi Arabia and attended by participants from Turkey, U.S., France, Germany, Qatar, and the U.K.
On Sept. 4, Daily Sabah's Ali Ünal spoke with Syria expert Oytun Orhan from the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), who also underlined the difficulty of persuading Syrians to accept a transition that would include Assad.
"Syria's stability is favored by all actors, and this is not possible as long as Assad continues to rule. Even if Turkey is persuaded, it will not be possible to persuade the opposition, the majority of the Syrian people and refugees," Oytun had said.
President Erdoğan also met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Monday during the day, and also representatives of several think-tanks and media on Monday evening at an event organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA). On Tuesday, President Erdoğan is scheduled to meet with the British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.