Istanbul to host Syria meet amid confusion

Istanbul to host Syria meet amid confusion

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Istanbul to host Syria meet amid confusion

A view shows damaged buildings in the old city of Homs March 30. A Turkish official hopes that an Istanbul meeting will be a ‘turning point’ on the issue. REUTERS photo

A key summit on Syria is set to gather Western and Middle Eastern heavyweights in Istanbul on Sunday, with deep confusion remaining over how the year-long turmoil will be ended, amid rifts within both the international community and the Syrian opposition. 

The so-called Friends of Syria meeting comes at a time when the world and the Syrian opposition are divided when it comes to the methodology to end the Syrian crisis. One of the main problems is how this meeting will be linked to the joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League Kofi Annan’s mission, aimed at ending the violence in Syria and opening channels for humanitarian assistance. 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was scheduled to make a phone call to Annan Friday to invite him to the summit, although there was little hope that the former U.N. secretary-general could make it. 

Erdoğan is expected to make the opening speech of the meeting on April 1, which will collect around 70 countries from Europe, North America and the Middle East around the same table. 

With the expectation that the Syrian National Council will be announced as “the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” the Friends of Syria will discuss how best to provide assistance to those suffering at the hands of the regime’s brutal security forces. 

Though Russia and China, two permanent representatives of the United Nations Security Council, will be absent from the meeting, a Turkish official expressed hope that “the summit would be a turning point for the international community in dealing with the Syrian situation.” 

However, despite positive assessments, the fact that the world’s powerful countries and institutions were still struggling to agree on a single plan over Syria, expectations for success at the summit remain low. 

On March 29, an Arab League summit proposed the commencement of dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the Bashar al-Assad regime, in an open u-turn from its original position. Coupled with Annan’s plan envisaging the launching of a new political process for a transitional government, this change in the Arab League’s position is likely to be reflected at the Istanbul summit. 

Full speed diplomatic track

Ahead of the Istanbul summit, the Hürriyet Daily News has learnt that Annan urged both the United States and the European Union not to launch fresh initiatives that would complicate his mission. 

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to meet with foreign ministers of the Gulf Countries and Saudi Arabia on Saturday in Riyadh, just a day before the Friends of Syria meeting. A meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Clinton is also expected to take place late Saturday or early Sunday before the meeting starts. 

Assad can’t stay in power: Davutoğlu

Davutoğlu made Turkey’s position regarding the Syrian turmoil clear once again late Thursday, expressing his strong desire for al-Assad’s ousting. “No foreign support can sustain the regime, only the support of the people can keep a regime alive,” he said, replying to a television interview question on whether Iranian support could sustain the al-Assad administration.

“How can Iran or another country sustain a regime in the Middle East when even the United States failed to sustain certain administrations in Latin America? No foreign support can sustain the regime in Syria, just as U.S. support failed to sustain the Shah, whose regime was toppled by the rising people,” he said.

“Solutions based on al-Assad staying in power are not realistic,” Davutoğlu added.

‘Involvement is imperative’ 

A timely involvement to stop the turmoil “is not preferential but is imperative” for Turkey, Davutoğlu said, adding that he was pleased with the ongoing dialogue with Iran, despite that fact that Tehran wishes to see a strong Syrian regime opposing Israel. 

“We have grounds to work on this issue, but we won’t allow for a regional imbalance to be created by hostility between Turkey and Iran. There may be circles who want to create a cold war, but Turkey and Iran have an understanding of history not to enable this,” he stated.

Humanitarian aid through Turkey

On the other hand, if a compromise is reached on Annan’s peace plan, Turkey, as a neighboring country, would support the Syrian people by transferring humanitarian aid, Turkish officials said. In February, Minister Davutoğlu had already announced that Turkey would agree to a humanitarian aid transfer into Syria through the Turkish border.

Meanwhile Erdoğan said he was pessimistic that al-Assad’s acceptance of Annan’s plan would lead to a settlement, pointing to the ongoing bloodshed. “We cannot just stand by and watch. We’ll do what is necessary,” he said yesterday. Minister Davutoğlu was also expected to have a phone conversation with Annan Friday.