MURSITPINAR, Turkey — Turkey’s president on Wednesday criticized U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as offering only a “temporary” solution to the problem of terrorism, tempering expectations that Turkish military participation in the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State could be imminent.
Addressing lawmakers in Ankara, the Turkish capital, before a Thursday vote to authorize military intervention in Syria and Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed his country’s readiness “for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”
But he also spelled out his reluctance to become embroiled in a military campaign in Syria that does not prioritize the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and relies on airstrikes to achieve its goals.
“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger” of terrorism, Erdogan said. He called for a comprehensive strategy to resolve the region’s problems, including a new system of democratic governance in Syria.
Erdogan urged lawmakers to vote in favor of the resolution authorizing intervention in Syria and Iraq, which renews a similar 2012 mandate set to expire Saturday. Significantly, this authorization adds language allowing the government to permit “foreign militaries” to use Turkish soil for cross-border attacks, potentially paving the way for the United States to launch airstrikes from Turkish bases. The proposal is expected to pass because Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has a majority in parliament.
But Erdogan’s comments suggest Turkey is in no hurry to join the military effort against the Islamic State, despite intensifying U.S. pressure to do so. The previous mandate, sought in the wake of the downing of a Turkish jet by a Syrian government missile, did not result in military action.
“It should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions, nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it,” Erdogan cautioned.
Erdogan had hinted this week that Turkey would be willing to lend its support to the coalition, which comprises more than 40 countries, telling an economic forum in Istanbul on Sunday that Turkey “cannot stay out of this.” Turkish officials, in private conversations, also have not ruled out taking unilateral action in Syria, including the possible establishment of some form of buffer zone between the two countries.
Turkey’s position, however, is complicated by its dual concerns that any fight against the Islamic State will serve to strengthen not only Assad but also Kurds on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish border, who have emerged as de facto partners of the U.S.-led battle against the militants. Turkey has long sought to quell the separatist aspirations of its own restive Kurdish population, and Syrian Kurds have accused Turkey of offering covert aid to the Islamic State in its efforts to eject Kurds from border areas in Syria.
Erdogan still has offered no indication that Turkey will be prepared to commit warplanes to the coalition effort, as have other regional players such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Nor has he suggested that U.S. warplanes will be permitted to use the air base at Incirlik to launch attacks.
U.S. officials have said Turkey’s participation is key if the coalition is to succeed, especially now that the strikes have been extended to include Syria, with which Turkey shares a 580-mile border close to where the Islamic State militants are strongest.
In recent days, however, officials have sought to downplay expectations for the level of Turkey’s likely participation, suggesting that the country’s role might be confined to restricting the flow of foreign fighters and clamping down on illicit oil sales by the militants, areas in which the United States had been seeking Ankara’s cooperation for months.
“Everyone likes to pay attention to the military part of the coalition,” Philip Gorden, President Obama’s Middle East adviser, told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday. “But . . . to get this right, we need partners on all the other dimensions — the ideological dimension, foreign fighters, oil sales — and Turkey can be a critical partner on all those issues as well.”
The ongoing fight for control of the Syrian town of Kobane, which Islamic State fighters are attempting to wrest from Kurdish fighters, has underscored Turkish ambivalence toward the American strategy. The battle is raging in full sight of Turkish soldiers just across the border, but Kurds complain they have offered no help to the beleaguered Kurdish fighters. On Wednesday, U.S. warplanes conducted rare daytime strikes against Islamic State positions about three miles outside Kobane, a Kurdish activist in the area said.
Also on Wednesday, in the central Syrian city of Homs, 39 people, most of them children, were killed in twin bombings near a school, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There was no immediate assertion of responsibility, but the neighborhood is dominated by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect. The official SANA news agency put the number of dead at 32.
Rebecca Collard in Beirut contributed to this report.