Published: Friday, May 17, 2013

Obama, Erdogan meet as Syrian war rages

UN passes resolution, UN chief to meet Putin

President Barack Obama met Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday as world leaders scramble to find a way to ease Bashar al-Assad from power and end Syria’s bloody civil war.
The talks came a day before another key player in the drama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, was to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and after UN members voted to condemn an “escalation” by Assad’s force.
But, while Obama and Erdogan agree that Assad must be ousted to end the slaughter, their approaches are different and there are signs of frustration in Ankara at Obama’s cautious approach towards the Syrian rebels.
Obama has said that Washington has a moral and national security incentive to stop the killing, but has demanded more evidence to stand up reports that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, crossing a US red line.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States office in Turkey, told AFP Erdogan would ask Obama to enforce a “no-fly zone” in Syria and to start directly arming rebel groups.
Obama has resisted both requests before. Enforcing a no-fly zone would require him to deploy US forces into combat in the Middle East once again, after he ran for re-election boasting of having ended the US role in Iraq.
Russia is a traditional ally of Syria and voted against a motion before the US General Assembly to condemn what Arab and Western powers denounced as Assad’s “escalation” in attacks on civilians.
The vote passed despite Russian anger but the number of states backing the motion was only 107, down from 133 when a similar vote was held in August, suggesting a weakening of international support for Assad’s immediate overthrow
Now, the diplomatic tempo is increasing, with leader shuttling between capitals to try to revive a plan agreed in Geneva last year for a ceasefire followed by the formation of a transitional Syrian government.
Putin is likely to press this point in his talks with Ban today at his Black Sea residence in Sochi, southern Russia, and Moscow bitterly opposed Wednesday’s General assembly vote.
According to rights activists, more than 94,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which erupted in March 2011 when the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against what started out as a peaceful uprising.