Turkey's Erdogan confirms plans to visit Gaza Strip

"I hope that my visit can contribute to the process [of establishing a Palestinian state]," Erdogan tells Obama.

Erdogan, Obama romantic in the Rose Garden 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erdogan, Obama romantic in the Rose Garden 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 peoples.
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 extremism.”
Syria has accused Turkey, in particular, of financing and arming the al-Nusra Front – an al-Qaida affiliate – within the ranks of rebel forces.
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 added.
Channel 10 reported that Ya’alon told Brennan that Israel “will not permit the transfer of weapons” from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
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.
Moscow is honoring previous agreements and has not signed any new contracts with Damascus, he stressed.
“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.
Israeli 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 missiles.
Possession of S-300 missiles would significantly boost Syria’s ability to stave off intervention in its current civil war, the daily reported.
Lavrov said Russia would fulfill the contracts it has already concluded with Damascus, but they did not include sales of the S-300 system.
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.
“Among 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.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally during the conflict.
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 attending.
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 Moscow.
“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 this report.