Turkey, US join hands on Iran, Syria and PKK fight
AA PhotoPrime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed yesterday on the need to send “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, a U.S. official said after their meeting in Seoul.
The leaders agreed that a Friends of Syria group meeting April 1 in Istanbul should seek to provide such aid and medical supplies, said U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes after they met on the eve of a nuclear security summit.
The two leaders held a joint press conference after their nearly 90-minute meeting. Obama said the political developments in Syria dominated the agenda of the meeting and that Ankara and Washington would continue to work together on the crisis in Syria. Erdoğan also said his Iran visit this week would mostly focus on Syria.
“It was a very fruitful meeting,” Erdoğan said. “We had a chance to evaluate the situation in Syria. It made us happy to see that our opinions are similar on the matter.”
Washington has said several times that it is looking at providing non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whom the United States says should step down.
The White House has said it does not favor arming the rebels, arguing that further “militarizing” the conflict would worsen civilian bloodshed. In the talks with Erdoğan, Obama said the U.S. and Turkey agreed that “there should be a process” of transition to a “legitimate government” in Syria.
Erdoğan said 17,000 refugees had fled from Syria to Turkey. “We cannot be spectators” to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the crackdown on rebel groups that has killed more than 9,000 people, he said.
However, the Obama administration appears to fear that any weapons sent to Syria would be at risk of falling into the wrong hands and does not appear to have confidence in rebel groups or a clear picture of their makeup. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month that the U.S. was looking at providing non-lethal aid such as radio equipment to help opposition forces in their fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Al-Assad survives with the backing of Russia, China and Iran
There is a revival of relations between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the al-Assad regime, Erdoğan said while en route to Seoul. “In the past, al-Assad handed over the members of PKK but today he is protecting them,” the prime minister said, adding that the government was still working on a buffer zone inside Syria due to the developments.
“We are seeking to involve Russia, China and Iran into to reach a solution,” he said.
“Al-Assad is trying to buy time. He is surviving with the backing of Russia, China and Iran and his government has budget problems. Whenever the opposition gains strength, his departure will be very quick,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by daily Hürriyet.
The prime minister also said they are on the verge of breaking all diplomatic relations with Syria, which would include pulling the country’s ambassador out of Syria.
Fight against terrorism
The two leaders also discussed Iran, with Obama saying there was still time to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff through diplomacy but that the window for such a solution was closing. “I believe there is a window of time to solve this diplomatically but that window is closing,” Reuters quoted Obama as saying.
Obama said progress needed to be made soon on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. “Iran has to fulfill its obligations.”
The U.S. president also touched on the much-debated issue of religious freedom in Turkey and said he was happy to see that they were on the same page.
Erdoğan also mentioned Turkey’s fight against the PKK, saying the U.S. was on Turkey’s side. “It is good to see United States with us in our fight against this terrorist group,” Erdoğan told reporters. “Our fight will continue, but we will also continue political negotiations as well.”
In response, Obama said they were in harmony in the fight against the PKK. They also discussed the current situation in Iraq.
The prime minister further said they hoped to come closer to realizing the “expected future for Cyprus.”