Meanwhile, the United States has encouraged Turkey to develop
strategic relations with Syria.
Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has relayed
its approval for Turkish measures to improve defense and military relations
with Syria. They said the White House approval included the border security
exercise conducted by Ankara and Damascus in late April.
"Turkey is the gateway to Iran and Syria," an official said. "We want to
reach both of these countries."
On May 8, Obama said he would maintain U.S. sanctions on Syria for
another year. Officials cited Syria's efforts to expand its weapons of mass
destruction programs as well as increase the flow of Al Qaida operatives to
Still, the White House regarded Turkey as a prospective supplier of
military and security assistance to Syria that would be banned under U.S.
law. Both Iran and Syria have been on the State Department's list of
terrorist sponsors, which prevents U.S. military and most dual-use exports.
The Obama administration has made improved U.S. relations with Damascus
and Teheran a linchpin in Washington's foreign policy. Officials said the
president discussed Turkey's role in helping the United States during his
visit to Ankara in April.
Three weeks later, Turkey became the first NATO ally to launch a
military exercise with Syria. This was followed by the signing of a
memorandum of understanding for defense cooperation between Ankara and
Damascus. The United States has been a major supplier to Turkey's military,
including the sale of the F-16 multi-role fighter.
Officials said the administration regards Turkey as a tool to help
reduce Syria's military dependency on Iran. They said Washington was also
encouraging Turkey to help Pakistan fight Al Qaida along the border with
Afghanistan as well as sell weapons to Syria's neighbor Lebanon.
"With Turkey, you have a devout Muslim state that is also pro-American
engage in stabilization activities that could be opposed by Congress," the
official said. "If Turkey helps Syria with border security, then our
interests benefit as well."
Israel has also expressed concern over the emerging strategic relations
between Syria and Turkey. Officials said the government of Israeli Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu relayed its dismay to the U.S. administration
during the three-day Syrian-Turkish exercise.
Details of the Turkish arms proposal for Lebanon were not released. Ankara
state-owned defense firms have been marketing munitions, rockets, armored
cars, electronic warfare systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.
"Turkey is asserting itself exclusively in the Muslim Middle East, while
ignoring other areas of the Ottoman realm," Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish
the Washington Institute, said. "What is more, under the [Turkish ruling
party] AKP, Turkish foreign policy empathizes increasingly not with the
West, but with Russia and Iran, and especially with Arab Islamist causes.