US President Barack Obama and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted yesterday that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad must quit power as part of moves to end Syria’s bloody civil war.
The leaders met in Washington amid a flurry of shuttle diplomacy between world and regional powers, amid maneuvering ahead of a planned international conference that Washington and Moscow have proposed to halt the violence.
At a joint White House news conference, the Turkish and US leaders restated their position, but Obama admitted: “There is no magic formula for dealing with an extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria’s.”
The talks came a day before another key player, Russian President Vladimir Putin, was to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and one day after UN members voted to condemn an “escalation” by Assad’s forces.
And even as Obama and Erdogan were meeting, Israeli officials said that John Brennan, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, had arrived in Israel for talks on the Syrian crisis.
Obama has made strenuous efforts to court the Turkish leader but, while they agree that Assad must be ousted, there are signs of frustration in Ankara at Obama’s cautious approach towards the Syrian rebels.
Obama has balked at providing arms and ammunition to the guerrillas, fearing they could fall into the hands of extremist elements linked to Al Qaeda, and is now pinning hopes on the peace conference jointly organised by Russia.
After meeting Erdogan, Obama gave no sign his position has changed.
“We both agree that Assad needs to go. He needs to transfer power to a transitional body,” he said.
“That is the only way we’re going to resolve this crisis. And we’re going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad’s tyranny,” he added, vowing to support Turkey in its struggle to cope with a flood of Syrian refugees.
In what was perhaps a sign that Turkey is not yet satisfied with Obama’s stance, Erdogan said: “We will continue to discuss this issue in greater detail in our meeting this evening.”
But he added: “Let me tell you that ending this bloody process in Syria and meeting the legitimate demands of the people by establishing a new government are two areas where we are in full agreement with the US.”
Before the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, a Turkish official said that Erdogan would push for direct US military aid for the rebels.
“Everyone in the international community is very much concerned, worried about the radical elements,” he said.
“We are of course concerned more than anyone else, being a neighbour of Syria – but the way to deal with that problem is not withholding your support. Not doing anything is not a solution.”
Obama has said that Washington has a moral and national security incentive to stop the killing, but has demanded more evidence to stand up reports that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, crossing a US red line.
But Erdogan insisted: “Let me first of all say that chemical weapons and missiles, rockets, all that, have been fired.
“All that information is shared between the relevant bodies within our administrations and it’s not just Turkey and the US,” he said, noting that Britain and France had condemned Syrian use of chemical arms.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted in an interview broadcast yesterday that Iran should take part in the international peace conference on Syria.
Lavrov told Lebanese television that Russia believed the conference, which he and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Moscow last week, should include Iran, a key Syria ally, while stressing that this had not been agreed.
“Among some of our Western colleagues, there is a desire to narrow the circle of external participants and begin the process from a very small group of countries in a framework which, in essence, would predetermine the negotiating teams, agenda, and maybe even the outcome of talks,” Lavrov said.
Iran, which supports Assad, has welcomed the proposal and expressed hopes that it would be a part of the process.
Its desire to participate in a June 2012 meeting on Syria hosted by the UN in Geneva was a bone of contention between Washington and Moscow.
Opposition alleges new massacre
The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition yesterday said regime forces have attacked the village of Khirbet Suda in Homs province and murdered at least 18 people.
“Victims were either killed by execution at gunpoint, or slaughtered with knives,” a statement said.
There were concerns that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces “will re-enter the village in the coming hours, as Khirbet Suda remains under a crippling blockade,” the statement added.
It said reports from the area were scarce because of a “massive blackout”.
“We are especially concerned about isolated villages, surrounded by villages loyal to Assad,” the statement said.
The Coalition urged international rights groups to act to prevent what it called further massacres.
Sources: Caye Global News, Gulf Times
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