The Envoy

Turkey’s foreign minister: Syria’s Assad could’ve been Gorbachev, but chose to be Milosevic

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Munich Feb. 4, 2012. (Jim …


Turkey's foreign minister vowed Friday to work with Washington and like-minded European and Arab states to bolster humanitarian protection for Syrian civilians endangered by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to journalists in Washington ahead of a Monday meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, threw support to Clinton's proposed idea for a "Friends of Syria" international contact group to find ways to get humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians and support that country's transition to democracy. Close to 6,000 people have been killed in Assad's 11-month crackdown; some 30,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, he said.

Davutoglu said that Turkey had tried to engage the Assad regime last year on a reform plan. But as the crackdown against Syrian protesters only intensified, Turkey chose to support the Syrian people in their aspirations for greater democracy.

"We hoped Assad could be a 'Gorbachev," Davutoglu said, referring to the Russian leader who oversaw the 'glasnost' period of democratic reforms in the former Soviet Union. "But instead he preferred to be Milosevic," he continued, referring to the late Serbian strongman who pursued a genocidal campaign against Bosnia's ethnic Muslims and Croats, and oppressed Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.

Davutoglu said he was disappointed that Russia and China had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution last Saturday that would have called for a halt to the Syria violence, describing the 13-2 Security Council vote as an echo of the Cold War. But he said Turkey had not entirely given up hope that it may still be possible to get a UN resolution on Syria in the coming days. He noted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent visit to Damascus had produced the same hollow promises from Assad to stop the violence, while on the ground Syrian tanks had intensified their indiscriminate assault on Syrian civilians in the restive city of Homs.

It would be premature to call for a Libya-style NATO military intervention in Syria at this time, Davutoglu said. But he noted that events were moving very quickly on the ground, and that it was not inconceivable that the situation could look different in a few weeks time.

The Turkish envoy's visit to Washington comes during a particularly bright period in American-Turkish relations, with the U.S. and Turkey working closely on Syria, the Arab spring, Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. Davutoglu also alluded to recent consultations between himself, Iranian officials and unspecified western interlocutors over a possible updated confidence building measure regarding Iran's nuclear program. What is needed, he said, is for both sides to overcome substantial mistrust.

Davutoglu said that he had almost weekly calls with Secretary of State Clinton and noted that President Obama also speaks frequently--at least twice a month--with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama described Erdogan last month as one of the five world leaders with whom he enjoys the most effective and trusted relations.

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