President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed ways to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, including non- lethal assistance to the opposition and getting Iran to stop supporting Assad’s regime.
Following a one-hour and 45 minute meeting between the men, Obama said he and Erdogan are “very much in agreement” on the need for a process to transition to a legitimate government in Syria, after months of deadly violence by Assad’s regime to quash anti-government protests.
Obama and Erdogan met in Seoul ahead of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit that begins tomorrow.
Erdogan, through a translator, said as a matter of conscience it was unacceptable to stand by as onlookers, and that more needed to be done to protect Syrians within the framework of international law.
The bulk of their meeting focused on the agenda for an April 1 Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to attend, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama.
Rhodes said next month’s meeting would consider non-lethal assistance to the opposition including communications tools and medicine. He said lethal assistance would not be part of those discussions given the “uncertain” nature of some elements of the opposition.
Erdogan told Obama he planned to travel to Iran and would press the regime to stop providing support to the Assad government, Rhodes said.
Erdogan last November called on Assad to quit. Earlier this month, he met with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus in Ankara. Turkey is housing thousands of Syrian refugees who crossed the border in recent months fleeing violence.
Turkey is under pressure to reduce Iranian oil purchases under law enacted Dec. 31, in which countries have until June 28 to demonstrate significant reductions or risk banks being cut off from the U.S. financial system.