Borzou Daragahi reports:
Turkey on Thursday signaled a diplomatic shift to further distance itself from longtime ally Syria, welcoming defecting Syrian officers and announcing plans to deliver relief assistance to beleaguered pro-democracy protesters across the border.
The shift against Damascus, where President Bashar Assad has undertaken a bloody crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, comes after months of waffling and wavering over its stance on uprisings that have shaken or brought down autocratic longtime leaders across the region. Turkey endorsed the largely peaceful revolution in Egypt, for example, but pleaded for political reforms rather than the ouster of heads of state in others, especially ones where it has business interests, such as Syria or Libya.
“Like any other country, Turkey had double standards on the ‘Arab Spring,'” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, an Ankara-based analyst for the German Marshall Fund, a think tank. “But recently Turkey is fine-tuning its policy. This new policy is based on the demands of the people instead of the priorities of the regimes.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, architect of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy that prioritized good relations with Middle East governments, all but announced the abandonment of that guideline to reporters Thursday after a meeting with Turkey’s ambassadors and national security team in the capital, Ankara.
“Our region demands a serious and urgent reform process,” Davutoglu told reporters, according to the semiofficial Anatolia news agency. “Regional people’s demands are normal, rightful and legitimate. Meeting those demands will make our region a more stable, more democratic and more prosperous region. We are ready to do our utmost to help our region complete this transition process in a healthy way.”