Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan answers questions at the US State Department in Washington, DC on May 16, 2013
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan answers questions at the US State Department in Washington, DC on May 16, 2013. Turkey has softened its opposition toward a Russia-US brokered international conference on Syria following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's trip to the United States, local media said. © Mladen Antonov - AFP/File
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan answers questions at the US State Department in Washington, DC on May 16, 2013
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AFP
Last updated: May 18, 2013

Turkey softens opposition to Syria conference

Turkey has softened its opposition toward a Russia-US brokered international conference on Syria following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's trip to the United States, local media said Saturday.

"Erdogan has appeared to soften his stance about Geneva after meeting with President Obama," commentator Asli Aydintasbas wrote in the liberal Milliyet newspaper.

Ankara agreed to an international gathering "in return for some guarantees" from Washington including an assurance that the process would not be "open-ended" and the parties would not allow months-long delaying tactics in the name of "diplomacy," according to the columnist.

Obama and Erdogan met in Washington Thursday amid a flurry of shuttle diplomacy between world and regional powers ahead of the planned conference, which is known in Ankara as "Geneva II" -- a follow-up to a 2012 accord among world powers in Geneva aimed at solving the Syrian conflict.

Ankara has so far opposed such an international gathering, arguing that it would buy Syrian President Bashar al-Assad time.

Erdogan, who spoke to Turkish reporters in Washington Friday, said he would visit Russia for further talks on a solution to the Syrian crisis.

"Our policy is not to buy time to Assad but to stop the deaths," he was quoted as saying by the Vatan newspaper.

Erdogan's trip to the United States followed twin car bombings in a Turkish town near the Syrian border that killed at least 51 people, in an apparent sign that the two-year conflict in Syria is dragging in neighbouring countries.

The Turkish premier had hoped to receive strong support from Washington after the deadly attacks but newspaper columnists said he was left empty handed.

"Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was welcomed in the United States with flamboyance. Military ceremony, Blair House, tête a tête dinner but beyond that one cannot talk of a concrete result," Nazli Ilicak wrote in the pro-government Sabah daily.

"We are again on our own in the face of problems emanating from Syria. Obama has not drawn closer to a no-fly zone," she wrote.

Turkey has called for a no-fly zone over Syria to establish safe havens to protect civilians but the United States resists the idea, saying it would be complicated to set up and difficult to enforce.

Turkey, a one-time Syria ally that has split from Assad over the conflict, is currently home to some 400,000 refugees and is increasingly frustrated by what it says the international community's inaction over the war.

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