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Stop crush on people or face Gadhafi's fate, says Turkey's Davutoğlu

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 8/8/2011 12:00:00 AM |

US Mideast envoy arrives in Ankara for a meeting as the Turkish foreign minister prepares to deliver a strong message to Damascus

Military operations against protesters must end if the Syrian regime wants to maintain its legitimacy, and not go the way of Libya’s leadership, Turkey’s top diplomat is set to tell Damascus in a visit Tuesday.

Ending the violence in Syria is an urgent demand not only of Turkey but of the whole international community, official sources told the Hürriyet Daily News late Monday on the eve of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria is facing growing international condemnation as the leadership ignores calls to end its deadly crackdown on protesters, putting it at risk of becoming as isolated as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who has also been engaged in a bloody battle against opposition forces in his country.

As unrest spreads across Syria, diplomatic visits to the country have become rare, making Davutoğlu’s trip a subject of keen international attention. A senior U.S. diplomat paid a snap visit to Ankara ahead of Davutoğlu’s trip to coordinate the two countries’ policies vis-à-vis Syria

Following a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late Sunday, the U.S. envoy for the Middle East, Fred Hof, held talks with Turkish officials in Ankara, where he entered the Prime Ministry through the back door, presumably to avoid media attention.

Sources close to the talks said Hof’s visit focused on Davutoğlu’s trip to Damascus and the messages the Turkish foreign minister would convey to al-Assad. Hof also reportedly wanted to know how Turkey would react if Davutoğlu’s talks fail to produce any concrete result.

“The situation in Syria is really complicated. There are some minor positive steps but they are far from satisfying,” Turkish officials told Hof, citing the removal of the state of emergency that had existed in the country for decades.

The topic was also addressed in a security summit held in Ankara on Monday under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and with the participation of Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel as well as senior government officials.

Sources told the Daily News that the first message Davutoğlu was planning to dispatch to Damascus was the urgency in ending the military operations against protesters. A recent operation launched on the same day as the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan caused widespread fury in the Islamic world. “This [ending operations] is necessary for them to preserve the legitimacy of their regime,” an official said, comparing the situation with that of Libya, another Arab country shaken by protests.

“The Libyan regime lost its legitimacy when it insisted on resorting to violence,” the official said.

Davutoğlu’s second message will be a call for the al-Assad regime to announce a concrete date for free elections in which all political parties that wish to join can run for Parliament. The Syrian regime earlier moved to allow the formation of new political parties but was not clear about when it would hold elections. The move was seen as a positive development but failed to satisfy Turkey and the rest of the international community.

Freeing all political prisoners and taking additional reform steps will also be urged by the Turkish foreign minister in Damascus.

“Al-Assad and his regime know in-depth what they should do to start a meaningful dialogue with their own people. We have offered them assistance in a number of fields,” a source told the Daily News.

[HH] All options on the table

The security summit held at the Prime Ministry on Monday reviewed all potential moves Turkey could undertake if the al-Assad regime decides to go its own way and continue imposing violence. Sources said all possible options – economic, political and security-related – were considered. Economic relations have already been affected by the growing instability in Syria and some joint projects have been suspended, sources said, adding that further implications were also discussed at the meeting.

The participation of Chief of General Staff Gen. Özel in the meeting underscored the military dimension of the situation in neighboring Syria. Though the international community was not able to show a concerted reaction to Syria at the United Nations, the growing violence and bloodshed could increase the volume of calls for a military intervention into Syria. Turkish officials said all options, including establishing a buffer zone in the Syrian part of the border, were being discussed at a technical level.

Political relations between Ankara and Damascus would be affected by future developments, as proven by an exchange of harsh statements between the two capitals over the weekend. Bouthina Shaban, a Syrian presidential adviser, urged Davutoğlu not to give a resolute message if he does not want to hear more resolute responses.

[HH] Clinton’s statement casts a shadow

Davutoğlu’s upcoming visit to Damascus sparked controversy following the U.S. State Department’s statement on the content of the Davutoğlu-Clinton phone talk late Sunday. Spokesman Mark Toner said Clinton discussed the U.S. position that Syria must immediately return its military to the barracks and release all political prisoners. “She asked the foreign minister to reinforce these messages with the Syrian government. She also discussed American support for a transition to democracy in Syria,” Toner said.

The perceived description of Davutoğlu as Clinton’s messenger was not welcomed by Ankara. “We are perturbed by [the statement]. Minister Davutoğlu’s agenda already contains all the necessary messages,” the Turkish official said.

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