MEMO From Henry Kissinger to Vladimir Putin on Idlib - A Reminder of How the Turks and Americans Do Things Together
by John Helmer - Dances with Bears
September 17, 2018
Moscow - Greek investigative journalist Michalis Ignatiou revealed on Sunday the classified White House document of August 13, 1974, in which Henry Kissinger persuaded then-US President Gerald Ford that Turkey should be supported by the US in their two-wave invasion of Cyprus, seizing and occupying over a third of the island, deterring the Greek defence of Cyprus, and encouraging the Turks to ignore United Nations (UN) condemnation.
According to Kissinger,
“the Turkish tactics are right — grab what they want and then negotiate on the basis of possession. But if the Turks run loose on Cyprus, the Greeks could come unglued. We certainly do not want a war between the two, but if it carne to that, Turkey is more important to us and they have a political structure which could produce a Qadhafi.”
This month the Kissinger scheme is being revived by the US, with support from Germany, France and the UK, to support Turkey in its seizure of the city and governorate of Idlib, in northwest Syria. Threats of US and NATO missile attacks have deterred the Syrian Army from attempting to reclaim its own territory. President Vladimir Putin has been pressured by the Turks, the US and NATO to delay Russian military support for the recovery of Idlib.
“There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus,” Kissinger told Ford in the Oval Office forty-four years ago. Substitute Idlib for Cyprus today, and there is no American reason why the Turks should not have Idlib, no matter what UN resolutions on Syrian sovereignty require and the Kremlin supports.
Today, as Putin meets the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, the question to be decided is whether the Kissinger scheme will prevail again.
The Kissinger-Ford briefing, kept classified for thirty years and then redacted by the Ford presidential library until now, took place at 9 in the Washington morning, 4 in the Cyprus afternoon, on August 13. That was between the two waves of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, known as Operation Attila.
The first wave, Attila-1, involving 40,000 Turkish ground troops, air and naval forces, took place on July 20, 1974. The second wave, Attila-2, with another 40,000 invaders, commenced on August 14. That was fifteen hours after Kissinger and Ford had agreed to give the Turks their go-ahead; at the same time ordering the British not to defend Cyprus by engaging the Turkish attackers; Cyprus had been a British colony and by the 1960 treaty of guarantee Cyprus remained a protectorate of the British who kept two military bases on the island. For a brief account of Attila, read this. The outcome of the US-backed invasion was Turkish occupation of more than 36% of the island.
For continuing US attempts to compel the Republic of Cyprus and the Greek Cypriots to capitulate and accept Turkish occupation under Turkish and NATO flags, and at the same time preserve the British bases on the island, read this archive of President Nikos Anastasiades’s negotiations with the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
Read the document in full, including the hand-written notes on which the typescript of the conversation was based. Kissinger, then Secretary of State and Ford’s national security advisor, did most of the talking; General Brent Scowcroft, the deputy national security advisor, came in late, managing to squeeze in only nine words during the hour.
NODIS, the classification designation at top and bottom of every page, meant that the secrecy Kissinger intended for his discussion with Ford should be preserved by not distributing the document to any other US Government official. XGDS in the US Government’s classification manual meant the Kissinger-Ford document was exempt from the general declassification schedule. Secret forever, almost.
Kissinger assured Ford the Soviet Union would react against the Turks with angry words at the UN, but pose no military risk.
“We have been trying to bail the Cyprus situation out after it got out of control. The British have made a mess of it. If the Turks move to take what they want, they will be condemned in the Security Council and the Soviet Union will beat them over the head with it. Some of my colleagues want to cut off assistance to Turkey — that would be a disaster. There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus.”
The clock, Kissinger told Ford, should be allowed to run because it was running to the Turkish advantage. “Let’s wait a bit. If we come out of the Cyprus thing all rlght, we will have more leverage.” Kissinger already knew that Attila-2 was about to be launched, but he didn’t reveal that to Ford.
On August 13, 1974, Ford had been president for just four days, following the forced resignation of Richard Nixon on August 9. Ford had also had no time to decide whether to separate the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor posts and promote another official to rival Kissinger’s power; in time Ford decided against doing that.
On September 7, 2018, at the summit conference on Syria held in Tehran with the Iranian and Turkish presidents, Putin sought to keep the record of direct negotiations secret. The Iranians decided to broadcast the proceedings.
Putin’s remarks at the subsequent press conference emphasized the gradualism of his plan for Idlib, and played down disagreement with Erdogan on the timetable for restoration of Syrian sovereignty and the planned offensive of the Syrian Army.
“We discussed specific measures for gradual stabilisation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which, among other things, provide opportunities for the conciliation of those who are ready for dialogue. As President of Turkey, Mr Erdogan, has said, we call on all conflicting parties to cease fire and stop the violence. At the same time, we consider unacceptable any attempts to spare terrorists or inflict damage on Syrian government troops under the pretext of protecting the civilian population. This seems to be the objective of the attempts to fabricate chemical attacks allegedly perpetrated by the Syrian government. We have irrefutable proof of militants preparing such operations and such provocations.”
AL-JAZEERA MAP OF CONTROL ZONES OF SYRIA, SEPTEMBER 2018
On the issue of whether Idlib should be liberated by the Syrian Army now or later, gradually or without delay, Foreign Minister Lavrov has been accused in the press of changing his position. Last month Lavrov was in favour of speed. “This is the last hotbed of terrorists who are trying to speculate on the region’s status as a de-escalation zone, who are trying to hold the civilian population hostage as human shields and bend to their will those armed groups ready to engage in dialogue with the government. So from all points of view, this festering abscess needs to be liquidated.”
On September 3 Lavrov said delay in the Syrian operation could not be tolerated “indefinitely”.
In Berlin on September 14 Lavrov said a great many things on Idlib, some of which have been interpreted as a Russian concession to delay the Syrian offensive in Idlib because of the threats of military retaliation by US and NATO forces.
In his Berlin speech on Friday what Lavrov did was to illustrate the differences between Russia’s military and security policymakers on the one hand, and the pro-Turkish lobby led by Dmitry Peskov in the Kremlin and major Russian business figures. Lavrov warned the Turks against adding forces and extending their occupation of Idlib beyond the mutual agreement on “observation posts”. “We speak with our Turkish colleagues who know that their territory sometimes is used by bad people to complicate situations in Syria. They provide additional control measures on the border. Now in Idlib twelve observation posts have been established by Turkey by the agreement which we have reached. This calms the situation a little. Turkey has undertaken obligations to try to achieve differentiation between that armed opposition which is ready to have dialogue with the [Syrian] Government and the terrorists who have tried to crush under themselves those armed groups which aren’t extremist.”
AL-JAZEERA MAP OF CONTROL ZONES IN IDLIB GOVERNORATE
Lavrov tried explaining what the military implications of this “differentiation” mean to the Russian command.
“It is necessary to understand what has been agreed in all cases of the creation of de-escalation zones. There the truce …doesn’t extend to terrorists. Oppositional groups are called to separate themselves from terrorists and to make contact with the government forces with our mediation, with the mediation of Turkey or Iran, and to agree [terms] for local reconciliation. Certainly, we will do everything that we are doing now, taking into full consideration the problems of the civilian population. Besides, by efforts for the organization of local arrangements with these or those groups which are in the Idlib area, a humanitarian corridor [has been established] for those who wish to leave [the area] just as we did in the zones in the south — in the province of Homs and the creation of the East Guta zone”.
Lavrov described the discussion in Tehran as one to “solve the problems in the Idlib zone to minimize risks for the civilian population. Now between us and the Turks there is a dialogue in the area of diplomats and the military. Next Monday [September 16] the presidents will consider this situation.”
Lavrov also claimed that western and Turkish press charges that Russia intends to give full air and ground support for the Syrian operation to retake Idlib is “an unfair representation of the facts.” Russian operations were limited, he told his Berlin audience on Friday, to defensive responses to the drone attacks launched from within Idlib against the Russian base at Khmeimim, south of Latakia.
“As soon as we obtain such information [on drone production and deployment], we suppress the underground factories making the lethal weapons. I assure you that we will approach most precisely these questions, to create humanitarian corridors, to encourage so-called local conciliation, to do everything to ensure the civilian population will not suffer.
“We won’t act as the [Anglo-American] coalition did in Iraqi Mosul or Syrian Raqqa when there were no negotiations on local truces with the armed opposition; no humanitarian corridors were created. Raqqa is roughly comparable in size to Idlib city. It was razed to the ground … we are waiting for information from the UN on what is evolving there…”
So what is Russian strategy towards the Turks and other NATO forces in Syria?
“[Let us] not divide the Syrian territory into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Now our western colleagues, for example from the EU and, the US, say they will provide only humanitarian aid (and not too much to the [Syrian] government). As for restoration of [Syria’s] infrastructure and the economy, that [the EU and US say] can be only after the so-called political transition begins and when they are convinced that this transition goes in the ‘correct’ direction. And here in the territory which is illegally occupied now by the US, together with opposition groups under their control and the Kurds, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, they invest millions and tens of millions of dollars doing exactly what the West refuses to do in other parts of the Syrian territory. In other words… it is a plan which at its root contradicts the sworn assurances of our western colleagues that they will respect the territorial integrity of the SAR [Syrian Arab Republic].”
In the old Kissinger formula it was accepted that Turkish territorial expansion by military means was in line with US strategy. For the moment Lavrov is leaving it to Putin to make clear with Erdogan if that’s still so – and if it is, whether Russia will do more about it than Kissinger expected at the UN.