Tensions growing between Turkey and Syria
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Jeremy Hobson: The 15-month uprising in Syria has been especially worrisome for Turkey — which shares a border — now more than ever after Syria shot down a Turkish military plane last Friday.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head joins us now from Istanbul with the latest. Good morning.
Jonathan Head: Good morning.
Hobson: How has the shooting down of this Turkish plane changed the situation there with Syria?
Head: It certainly made the Turkish government much more assertive in its policy; it says it will respond much more aggressively in the future to any perceived Syrian threat. But I think Turkey will still be cautious; it’s still very worried about its armed forces getting entangled in the growing civil war in Syria. It doesn’t want to be put up out front, ahead of everyone else. I think it will only act aggressively against Syria — for all of its anger about the plane — if it has substantial international backing, and crucially the United States.
Hobson: Now, some of the countries like Russia that have been so far reluctant to put economic sanctions on Syria or get involved in this conflict are doing that in part because they have strong economic ties to Syria. What about Turkey?
Head: Turkey was building a very successful economic relationship with Syria until the conflict started there. It was very important in particular for towns down on the border. It really benefitted from Syrian tourists from coming over; from trade and manufactured goods. It had rocketed up by ten times over the last decade, to more than $2 billion. That has been hit very hard not just by the plunge in relations but by the chaos there as well.
Turkish truckers who use Syria as a route to get to the rest of the Middle East can’t go now because it’s too dangerous. And trade has plunged — about 60 percent at the beginning of this year. In overall terms, it’s not a significant amount of trade for Turkey, because it’s got much bigger trade with the European Union and other countries. But for those areas down on the border, it’s been a very big blow indeed.
Hobson: The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul. Thanks very much.
Head: Good to talk to you.
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