NEW YORK – Despite US pleas to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he not
visit Gaza in June, the Turkish leader stood next to American President Barack
Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday and pledged to go ahead
with the trip.
“I hope that my visit can contribute to the process [of
establishing a Palestinian state],” Erdogan said.
Obama said that
reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, which his administration initiated
during his trip to Israel in March, would “help make progress toward a two-state
solution” and would be productive for both the Turkish and Israeli
While Obama was mostly questioned on recent Washington scandals
involving IRS targeting of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s
seizure of Associated Press phone records, both leaders addressed the Syrian
conflict in their joint press conference, and stressed their cooperation on both
tactical and intelligence matters.
“We’re going to keep increasing the
pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition,” Obama
said, in the hope of producing a Syria that is “a source of stability, not
Syria has accused Turkey, in particular, of financing and
arming the al-Nusra Front – an al-Qaida affiliate – within the ranks of rebel
Sending his condolences to the American people over the terrorist
attacks in Boston last month, Erdogan said Turkey was “a country that has been
fighting against terrorism for many years.”
“We are both determined to
fight jointly against terrorism,” he said.
Meanwhile, CIA director John
Brennan arrived in Israel on Thursday on a surprise visit to discuss the
situation in Syria, an Israeli official said.
Brennan held talks soon
after his arrival with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Tel Aviv, the official
Channel 10 reported that Ya’alon told Brennan that Israel “will
not permit the transfer of weapons” from Syria to Hezbollah in
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that
Moscow planned to go ahead with its shipment of S- 300 missiles to Syria, saying
the deal had been sealed before the recent air strikes on Syria, reportedly carried out by Israel.
“Missile defense systems are delivered
to protect the country that buys them from air strikes. But these contracts were
signed long before air strikes on Syria were launched last year and now,” Lavrov
said in an interview with Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV channel.
honoring previous agreements and has not signed any new contracts with Damascus,
“Those who do not plan aggressive actions against a
sovereign state have nothing to worry about, because air defense methods – and
this is clear from the name – are a purely defensive system required to repel
air attacks,” Lavrov said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly
urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a summit in Sochi on Tuesday not to
sell the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
officials declined to comment on Lavrov’s latest interview, which appeared to
contradict a statement he made last week that Russia would not sell the S-300
advanced air defense system to Syria.
Lavrov’s statement, published last
Friday by the Itar- Tass news agency, came in reaction to the publication of an
article two days earlier in The Wall Street Journal that Israel had informed the
United States of an imminent deal to sell the advanced ground-to-air
Possession of S-300 missiles would significantly boost Syria’s
ability to stave off intervention in its current civil war, the daily
Lavrov said Russia would fulfill the contracts it has already
concluded with Damascus, but they did not include sales of the S-300
In an interview posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on
Thursday, Lavrov said that Iran must take part in a proposed international
conference to end Syria’s civil war, but that Western states wanted to limit the
participants and possibly predetermine the outcome of the talks.
some of our Western colleagues, there is a desire to narrow the circle of
external participants and begin the process from a very small group of countries
in a framework which, in essence, would predetermine the negotiating teams,
agenda, and maybe even the outcome of talks,” Lavrov said.
been Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally during the
Moscow agreed last week with the United States to try to
organize an international conference similar to one that was held last year, but
this time with representatives of the government and opposition
Iran has welcomed the proposal and has voiced hope to be part
of the process. Its wish to participate in a June 2012 meeting on Syria hosted
by the United Nations in Geneva was a bone of contention between Washington and
“One must not exclude a country like Iran from this process
because of geopolitical preferences. It is a very important external
player. But there is no agreement on this yet,” Lavrov said in the
interview given to the Lebanese television station.
The United States is
loath to see Iran, a strong supporter of Assad, being at any such talks. No
venue has been confirmed but US Secretary of State John Kerry has talked of a
“Geneva II” meeting.
Reuters, JTA and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to