'Obama, Erdogan discuss aid to Syrian opposition'

US official says US president, Turkish PM consider medical aid, communications support; Annan to meet Medvedev for Syria talks.

By REUTERS
March 25, 2012 11:27
2 minute read.
US President Obama shakes hands with Turkeys PM

Obama, Erdogan shake hands with flags in background 370 (r). (photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing)

 
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SEOUL - US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday discussed providing medical supplies and communications support to the Syrian opposition but there was no talk of providing lethal aid for rebel forces, a US official said.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking to reporters after the two leaders met on the eve of a nuclear security summit in Seoul, said Washington and Ankara were open to considering further "non-lethal" aid for the Syrian opposition at a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Turkey on April 1.

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"We worked on a common agenda in terms of how we can support both humanitarian efforts...(and) the efforts of Koffi Annan to bring about much needed change (in Syria)," Obama said after his meeting with Erdogan, a sharp critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was in Moscow for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, which has crucial influence over diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.

The former UN chief is visiting Russia and China - the two powers closest to Syrian President Bashar Assad as he seeks to crush an insurgency and silence protests in which the United Nations says his forces have killed more than 8,000 civilians.

Russia and China have shielded Damascus from UN Security Council condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions in six months, including one on Feb. 4 that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to step aside.

But they sent a warning signal to Assad last week by approving a Security Council statement backing Annan's mission and warning that world powers could take further action if the killing does not stop soon.

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Largely to ensure Russian support, the statement included no firm deadline for implementation of its demands, potentially allowing Assad to play for time. It also included no direct call for Assad to cede power, which Russia would also have opposed.

Russia has voiced enthusiastic support for Annan's six-point peace plan aimed at ending the violence, securing humanitarian aid and launching a political dialogue between the government and opposition groups.

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But Moscow, which wants a strong role in diplomacy and is trying to avoid losing its firmest foothold in the Middle East, is at odds with Western nations over blame for the bloodshed and what must be done to stop it.

In a statement ahead of Annan's visit, the Kremlin suggested Assad's government is ready for dialogue and it is elements of the opposition, encouraged by contraband arms and foreign support, that is holding back.

Russia would outline "our essential approach to ensuring a ceasefire and end to violence in Syria, which will be difficult to implement without putting an end to external armed and political support of the opposition," the statement said.

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