Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
Ever since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have assumed that there would have to be a western military response – and that’s still my view. But I must admit that some US efforts to sell the idea have been so ham-fisted that they are having the opposite effect on me, increasing my doubts. I was particularly alarmed to hear John Kerry describe the Syrian crisis as “our Munich moment”. Munich is one of the most over-used and abused analogies in the making of foreign policy. Almost every western foreign-policy disaster since 1945 – from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq – has been preceded by some idiot saying that this is Munich. Read more
Obama’s political gamble on Syria
President Barack Obama’s decision to consult Congress before launching any military strikes on Syria came as a surprise to friend and foe alike. How is this political gamble likely to work out and what are the implications for the crisis in Syria and and for the use of American power around the world? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz, diplomatic editor and Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief, to discuss
By James Blitz and Barney Thompson
On Friday, John Kerry, US secretary of state, published the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of why the regime of Bashar al-Assad was culpable for last week’s chemical attack in eastern Damascus. The document was considerably more detailed than the much shorter assessment published by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
This difference is certain to lead to questions in Britain as to why David Cameron,UK prime minister, was unable to paint a more detailed picture of the Assad regime’s culpability. Some commentators are already arguing that if he had been able to do so, he may have been in a better position to persuade parliament of the merits of military action.
The UK frequently refers to the close collaboration on intelligence matters which it enjoys with the US. But the difference in detail between the two documents is striking.
The UK document says that there was “little serious dispute” that the chemical attacks caused mass casualties on a large scale “including, we judge, at least 350 fatalities.”
The US document said a “preliminary US government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.” Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The pace of events in the Middle East has quickened once again. More than two years since the start of the Arab spring, the facts on the ground can still change so rapidly in the region that western governments struggle to keep pace. Last week Barack Obama had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, only for the US president to find himself confronted with an even more dramatic challenge – a chemical weapon attack in Syria.
Video footage showing rows of children in burial shrouds and doctors desperately trying to save other victims shocked the world on August 20. What appeared to be a chemical attack on rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital was the latest in a series of allegations that the regime of Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons in its war against the armed opposition. Just over a year ago, Barack Obama, the US president, vowed that any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war would be a ‘red line’ that would provoke US intervention in Syria’s conflict. But despite acknowledging that Mr Assad has used chemical weapons, the US has so far failed to take action. Here is a timeline of US statements on chemical weapons and allegations of their use in Syria.
July 23, 2012 The Bashar al-Assad regime confirmed for the first time it possessed chemical weapons, saying it would use them in the case of Western military intervention but never against the Syrian population.
August 20, 2012 President Barack Obama announces his “red line” for Syrian intervention, threatening “enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”
December 6 2012 The White House expresses concern that the Assad regime “might be considering the use of chemical weapons” and that the Syrian authorities would be “held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them”. Read more
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for two days of talks in Washington this week to discuss restarting the peace talks that collapsed in 2008. US secretary of state John Kerry said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have set themselves a goal of reaching a “final status” agreement within nine months.
We’ve put together a potted history of the peace process and writing on the talks to show why an agreement to talk, incremental though it sounds, is still a big deal. Read more
Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.
In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output. Read more
Over the past year, there have been security and war scares all over East Asia – but Taiwan, the traditional hot spot, remained strikingly cool. In recent months, Japan and China have jostled over their disputed islands and the North Koreans have threatened America and the South with nuclear weapons. By contrast, Taiwan has not been at the centre of a good war scare since the Straits crisis of 1996. Visiting the island, a few weeks ago, I was told by a senior member of the security establishment that – “We look like an island of calm in a boiling sea.”
Perhaps the Taiwanese were feeling left out? Because, together with China, they have succeeded in creating some waves over the past week. First, the Taiwanese government staged its first live-fire security exercise since 2008. And this event was swiftly followed by the revelation that China has deployed missiles near the island that are capable of threatening American aircraft carriers. This is significant, because the carriers are the basis of American power in the Pacific. And, in the Straits crisis of the mid-90s, it was the dispatch of US carriers to the area that signalled that America was taking a tough stance. Read more
Is war with North Korea imminent?
In the last two weeks, tension on the Korean peninsula has risen dramatically, as North Korea has threatened to target US territories in the Pacific and blocked South Korean workers from entering a joint industrial complex in the North. In this week’s podcast, John Aglionby is joined by Geoff Dyer, diplomatic correspondent and Jamil Anderlini, Beijing bureau chief, to discuss whether Kim Jong-eun’s escalating rhetoric is purely sabre-rattling or if we should be worried about his threats.