Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed concern over unrest in neighboring Syria, saying he plans to have further talks with President Bashar al-Assad after he dismissed protests against his 11-year rule as the result of a “foreign plot.”
“I intend to call him in the next day or two. I want to see what reaction the statements have caused,” Erdoğan told journalists who accompanied him on a visit to the UK, on Thursday, apparently referring to Assad’s speech earlier this week. “I want to see what happened with regard to people’s expectations,” Erdoğan said onboard the flight from the UK to Turkey, referring to demands for the lifting of emergency rule underway in Syria for decades, release of political prisoners and a new constitution. “If these expectations are not fulfilled, we will tell him [that],” Erdoğan said of the telephone conversation he plans to have with Assad, while declining to comment if Assad should or will have to resign.
Erdoğan has spoken twice to Assad in recent days to discuss the unrest in Syria and has sent the head of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to Damascus for talks with the Syrian leader, who enjoys warm ties with Turkey.
On Wednesday in his first public speech since protests erupted, Assad did not spell out reforms and urged instead for unity, saying Syria was the target of a foreign conspiracy to stir up protests. But he later took steps towards addressing grievances including lifting emergency law, granting rights to disenfranchised Kurds and ordering an investigation into protest deaths in the flashpoint city of Deraa and the port of Latakia.
Erdoğan, who had talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday, suggested at a joint news conference after the talks that Assad’s speech failed to meet expectations. “I wish more concrete, clearer messages had been given. I think this would have been more appropriate,” he said.
“People’s desires for rights and freedoms should not be ignored,” Erdoğan also said, noting that he told Assad that speeding up the reform process would be very helpful.
The protests in Syria have come on the heels of popular uprisings that have toppled long-time presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and sparked clashes in Libya. Turkey, which says Arab regimes must listen to their peoples’ demands for change, has very close ties with the Assad regime and has urged Assad to speed up reforms to avoid further instability in his country.
“We are of course watching [the situation in Syria] with concern,” Erdoğan told journalists aboard the plane, remarking that Turkey’s longest land border is with Syria. There are concerns that the unrest in Syria could spark an influx of refugees fleeing conflict into Turkey, especially given the visa-free travel regime that exists between the two countries. Asked whether there could be a such an influx, Erdoğan said: “I hope not. It would cause us difficulties.” Todayszaman