Supporters of Syrian opposition to meet in
By Christopher Torchia - AP
March 31, 2012
In this picture released by an official website of
the Iranian supreme leader's office, Iranian supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets with
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the
northwestern city of Mashhad, Iran, Thursday, March
29, 2012. Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme
See Related Links
ISTANBUL, — China and Russia turned
down invitations. Iran didn't get one. The absence
of these key supporters of the Syrian regime at a
meeting in Istanbul on Sunday highlights the global
division over how to stop the bloodshed in Syria as
much as the unity of dozens of participating
countries from the Western and Arab worlds.
Then there are differences in tone and priorities in
the "Friends of the Syrian People" group that aims
to encourage the Syrian opposition into unifying its
scattered ranks. Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to arm
Syrian rebels, Turkey is making contingency plans
for a buffer zone in Syria if refugee flows surge,
and the United States, in an election year, says
military force against the Syrian government is a
Even nations that relentlessly championed diplomacy
as the best way to isolate Syrian President Bashar
Assad and force him to step down are showing fatigue
with that approach. Some fear Assad only agreed to a
peace plan presented by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan in
order to buy time and deflect outside pressure, and
note fighting has not let up since the deal was
"From the moment that was said, deaths in Syria have
not stopped," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan said. "They are continuing still. There is
no point in saying: 'I hope, I await, I expect.'
There is no point in it. Because he is continuing to
kill. Faced with such a scene, I have no such hope."
Annan's plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt
in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access
and medical evacuations. The plan also outlines a
complete cease-fire and calls for an inclusive,
Syrian-led political process to address the concerns
But skepticism about Assad's intentions suggests
Turkey and other countries that say he should quit
now have low expectations for the U.N. peace plan.
Syrian opposition figures question the idea that
Assad would help to oversee reforms, presumably
including a political transition leading to his
exit, after presiding over the deaths of thousands
of his own people in order to stay in power.
"It seems the world, the international community, is
still exhausting all efforts, all diplomatic
solutions, all solutions that do not involve
military action," said Bassam Imadi,www.ekurd.net
a member of the opposition Syrian National Council
who believes the Syrian government will not abide by
"All the regime is doing is to gain time and more
time and more time in hope that the regime will be
able to crush the uprising and people will go back
home," Imadi said. "But, of course, this is not
going to happen."
Annan's call for talks within Syria appears to
contradict the premise of key nations at the
Istanbul meeting that believe Assad must go now.
However, the broad nature of the U.N. proposal was
designed to win the support of Russia and China,
which earlier blocked action against the Syrian
regime in Security Council vetoes.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was
expected in Istanbul for the one-day meeting after
talks in Saudi Arabia on devising a unified strategy
on stopping the Syrian crackdown and gaining
humanitarian access to beleaguered communities
there. More than 9,000 people have been killed in
Syria's violence since last March, according to U.N.
estimates. Hundreds of thousands have fled their
"Turkey and the United States both believe military
force is absolutely a last resort, an undesirable
one," Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. Ambassador to
Turkey, told reporters in Istanbul. "We are working
within the bounds of international law and
diplomacy. And we are doing it together. This is a
situation with no easy answers, no simple answers,
no magic, that can be produced."
He said of the Istanbul meeting: "Will it lead to an
instant solution on Monday morning? I don't think
so. But will we be closer? Yes, I think so."
A Turkish analyst, Osman Bahadir Dincer, compared
negotiations with the Syrian regime to "putting a
brain dead patient on a life support machine," and
said that even Russia and Iran, Assad's allies, were
building ties with "various actors" in preparation
for a post-Assad era.
"The United States speaks of a change in Syria and
appears to support it diplomatically, but at the
moment it does not want to intervene or pay a price
for it. But this does not mean that it won't
intervene at any time," said Dincer, a Syria expert
at the International Strategic Research
Organisation, a center in Ankara, the Turkish
"It can be expected that, as in Libya, it will try
to intervene by putting an ally like Turkey to the
fore," he said.
Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria and
hosts about 18,000 refugees, has been one of the
most vocal critics of the regime there and its
leaders were frustrated by Assad's failure to heed
their calls for reform last year. In an interview
with The Associated Press late Friday, Turkish
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Syria was a
Cold War-era case of the "illusion of autocratic
"They think that after a while, they will control
the situation. But when they do more oppression,
then pressure, then they are losing more control,"
said Davutoglu, who has traveled to Syria dozens of
times in the last decade.
Of Assad, he said: "Unfortunately, he did not show
vision, courage, and understand the logic, the logic
of the flow of history."
Associated Press reporters Ayse Wieting in
Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey,
Copyright ©, respective
author or news agency,
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the
content of news information on this page