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TURKEY tr-diplomacy

Turkey again portrays itself as troubleshooter in Iraq, Syria dispute

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/17/2009 12:00:00 AM | BARÇIN YİNANÇ

Turkey again tried to assume the role of “troubleshooter” Thursday as it pressed Syria and Iraq to ease the tension stemming from Iraqi accusations that Syria is behind bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Talks initiated by the Iraqi and Syrian security and intelligence officials in Ankara earlier in the week continued Thursday at the ministerial level. Syrian Minister Walid Muallem met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in a meeting hosted here by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and also attended by Amr Mousa, secretary-general of the Arab League.

The meeting came a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul. “We want to get terror, which not only threatens Turkey, but also Iraq, Iran and Syria, off of our agenda,” Erdoğan said at an iftar dinner that al-Assad attended. A Syria that has solved its problems with its neighbors will also serve the interests of Turkey, Erdoğan said.

Iraq said it has evidence backing allegations that militants based in Syria orchestrated the Aug. 19 truck bombings that killed 95 people and wounded 600 at the finance and foreign ministries in Baghdad. Syria, however, rejecting Iraqi accusations that its soil has been used as a launching pad, says allegations are politically motivated.

The flare-up threw the past year’s extensive efforts to boost ties between the countries, which had been weak under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his Baathist rule but had recently been improving, into disarray.

[HH] No need to rush

Turkey has been acting as a peace-broker after the neighbors' tit-for-tat recall of envoys last month with Davutoğlu’s visits to both, Damascus and Baghdad. Turkey mediated talks between Israel and Syria last year and recently offered to host talks between Iran and the West.

“It is not that we rush to solve every problem in the region,” said a Turkish official, referring the Turkey’s recent diplomatic overtures in the region. “When there is a problem between Syria and Iraq, it means we have a problem, too,” he said.

While Turkish officials avoided any ambitious statements regarding a quick solution to the recent tension between Iraq and Syria, they said the primary goal is to keep the communications channels open between the two countries.

“They need to resume talks. We are trying to keep the dialogue ongoing,” said a Turkish diplomat. The Turkish officials set damage control as their goal.

 “We need to keep the tension under control, especially until the January elections,” the diplomat said. Yet this is only the short-term goal. In the long-term, Turkey would like to see border problems solved, and Thursday’s meeting is seen as a part of this effort.

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