Turkish president in Syria, US uneasy
DAMASCUS: Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer landed in Syria on Wednesday on a state visit which has stirred unease in the United States and drawn criticism from some political analysts who say it sends the wrong signal.
Syria, branded by Washington as a sponsor of international terrorism, is under heavy international pressure to pull all its troops and security forces from neighbouring Lebanon. It has pledged to do so by the end of this month.
Sezer has been careful in the run-up to the visit to stress the importance of Turkey-US ties - already strained by the Iraq war and its aftermath - and Turkish media said the president would deliver a strong message to his Syrian hosts. “Diplomatic sources say (the president) is expected to relay a message to (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) that he must pull his troops from Lebanon as soon as possible,” the top-selling Hurriyet daily said.
Assad has publicly hailed Sezer’s decision to go ahead with his trip as evidence that NATO member Turkey is ready to stand up to the United States on issues of national interest.
Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari said Sezer’s “insistence on this visit” embodied Turkish support for “just causes”.
Turkish nationalists insist Turkey must not be seen to bow to US pressure over Syria, but some Middle East experts have criticised Sezer’s decision to visit Damascus.
“(Sezer’s trip) seems nothing but sailing in the open seas without a compass,” wrote Cengiz Candar in the conservative daily Dunden Bugune Tercuman, arguing Turkey lacks a coherent strategy for dealing with the Middle East.
Uniquely in the region, Turkey has strong security ties with Israel, Syria’s mortal enemy, but under the Islamist-rooted government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has tried to build better ties with Arab countries and with Iran.
Turkey, Syria and Iran share the same concerns about the turmoil in Iraq and fear it could lead eventually to the creation of a Kurdish state in the north of the country. This, they say, would fan separatism among their own Kurdish populations, leading to regional instability.
Syria agreed to end its 29-year troop presence in Lebanon last month after many Lebanese blamed it for the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Damascus denies any responsibility for his death. reuters