Ankara, 20 Rabiul Akhir 1434 H/2 March 2013 (MINA) – John Kerry, the US secretary of state, is holding talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara over the crisis in Syria, amid reports of heavy fighting in Syria’s two main cities and a Scud missile attack at the Iraqi border.
In a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday, Kerry said the two discussed how the international community can come together “in an effort to try to create a political transition” in Syria.
“We need to continue to work to make certain that the [President Bashar al-Assad] regime makes a different set of choices,” Kerry said, according to Aljazeera reports monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA), Saturday.
“Minister Davutoglu and I, along with our partners, believe that there is no legitimacy in a regime that commits atrocities against its own people.”
Kerry is also due to meet Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The talks come a day after the US announced that it would for the first time provide direct aid to Syrian rebels in the form of food and medical supplies as well as $60m in extra assistance to the political opposition.
Russia has criticised the decision, saying the promised assistance would only intensify the nearly two-year-old conflict.
Kerry’s meetings in Ankara are likely to be overshadowed by renewed tension between Turkey and Israel, two major US allies, following comments Erdogan made earlier this week, branding Zionism a “crime against humanity”.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week called Zionism a “crime against humanity” – remarks that have been widely condemned, and which Mr Kerry on Friday called “objectionable”.
US officials said Kerry would raise the remarks directly with Erdogan.
Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has joined the US in its campaign to overthrow the regime of Assad and has given shelter to Syrian rebels and to nearly 200,000 refugees along its volatile border. But Turkey and the US differ on how to support Syria’s opposition.
“Kerry announced tens of millions of dollars in aid for the rebels but non-lethal aid, restricted to medical supplies and food for the rebels,” Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Antakya near the Syrian border, said.
Turkey would like the US to do a little bit more than that. Turkey would like a buffer zone inside the northern part of Syria along with the border with turkey to protect people trying to flee the fighting.
Meanwhile BBC News reports said the crisis in Syria has been a central issue in John Kerry’s first overseas trip as secretary of state, which is taking him to 11 countries in Europe and the Middle East.
He said in Ankara that the US and Turkey “both believe the first priority is to try and have a political solution. We would like to save lives, not see them caught up in a continuing war”.
Davutoglu said their main objective was to “protect the innocent civilians of Syria”.
In Rome on Thursday, Mr Kerry promised direct aid to Syrian rebels in the form of food and medical supplies, but not the weapons they say they need to win.
Turkey has taken in more than 200,000 Syrian refugees and has been hit by deadly shelling across its 900km (560 mile) border with Syria.
Turkey wants the Syrian rebels to win the war as soon as possible and will be keen to convey its sense of frustration to Mr Kerry, the BBC’s James Reynolds in Istanbul says.
The US and other Nato allies have deployed Patriot missile interceptors to repel any possible attack by missiles or aircraft from Syria.
Erdogan has been outspoken in his support for Syrian rebels and has advocated the creation of a buffer zone inside northern Syria to protect people fleeing the fighting.
Turkey began massing troops along the frontier in June last year after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet off its coast.
In October the Turkish army fired on military targets in Syria in retaliation for cross-border mortar fire.
The rebel Free Syrian Army is thought to receive weapons and other supplies from Turkey.
The US has refrained from arming the rebels, in part because of concerns the weapons could eventually fall into the hands of Islamist militants who might attack its interests.
On Thursday in Rome, Mr Kerry promised an additional $60m (£40m) in aid to the opposition Syrian National Coalition to help it deliver basic governance and other services in rebel-controlled areas.
He also promised direct support in the form of food and medical supplies to rebel forces, in what correspondents say was a shift in US policy on Syria.
Russia – a close ally of President Assad – has said the promises of aid to the opposition made by the US and other countries in the “Friends of Syria” group will encourage further violence rather than a negotiated solution.
“The decisions taken in Rome… directly encourage extremists towards precisely a violent seizure of power, despite the suffering of ordinary Syrians,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said. (T/P05/E1)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)