On the eve of a key visit to Washington on May 16 by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government is holding whirlwind talks with the US on the worsening Syria crisis, Turkey’s Hurriyet reported on Saturday.
“Erdoğan’s upcoming US visit has increased in importance in this regard,” diplomatic sources told the Turkish daily. “A more concrete picture and certain decisions in regards to what kind of an action will be taken by the international community in Syria are expected to emerge during the visit,” the sources added.
On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that there is “strong evidence” that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people.
Kerry’s comments came the same day that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cited tests on Syrian war casualties being treated in Turkey that indicated chemical weapons had been used against them.
“This fight is about the terrible choices the [Bashar] Assad regime has made, with its willingness to kill anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 of its own people now, to use gas, which we believe there is strong evidence of use of, to massacre people with Scud missiles, with artillery, and to really try to pretend this is somehow an outside affair, when really this is people within Syria fighting for a different future,” Kerry said during a live video discussion via Google+ hangout, the first ever for a sitting secretary.
In recent weeks, the US government had intimated that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own people would potentially constitute the crossing of a “red line” for possible military intervention. Still, US President Barack Obama claimed two weeks ago that the intelligence about the use of chemical weapons in Syria was still not sufficient.
Kerry said Friday that he still believes compromise is an option for Syrians going forward.
“If you’re willing to compromise in the choosing of the people who will run that transitional government and you choose, in good faith, people who are prepared to put in front of the people of Syria a fair choice about who their leader ought to be, then I believe you could avoid war and you could have a settlement,” Kerry said.
However, the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the Syrian army’s dropping of leaflets Friday over the strategically-important city of Qusayr, located in the central Homs province, warning civilians to evacuate or be treated like combatants.
“Leaflets were dropped over Qusayr asking civilians to leave the city, with a map of a safe route by which to evacuate, because the attack against the city is coming soon if the rebels do not surrender,” a Syrian military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, speaking in the Jordanian capital on Friday, Davutoglu indicated that tests on war casualties currently in Turkey showed traces of chemical weapons, and that additional tests were being carried out.
“We have been making tests and we have some indications regarding chemical weapons being used, but in order to make sure and verify we are continuing these tests and will be sharing these tests with UN agencies,” Davutoglu said in Amman.
The foreign minister said that Damascus’s large stockpile of chemical weapons was not a world secret, and that Assad had perpetually refused to sign international accords banning them.
“We know the Syrian regime has stockpiles [of chemical weapons], just like everyone else knows it has this capacity,” Davutoglu said.
Erdogan voiced a similar sentiment Thursday, when he spoke to US media ahead of his visit to the Washington next week.
Erdogan said Syria had crossed Obama’s “red line” for deciding about intervention in Syria long ago. He claimed Turkey had determined that Assad’s government had used at least 200 chemical missiles against its people, but he did not clarify why type of weapons they were.
“We have the remainders of these missiles, there are pictures and then there are intelligence reports,” he said during an NBC news interview. “And there are patients who are brought to our hospitals who were wounded by these chemical weapons.”
Last week, Turkey confirmed that it was testing blood samples of the Syrian casualties who were brought over for treatment.