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Turkish PM talking Syria with Obama at White House


May 16. 2013 3:41AM
Associated Press

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(AP) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking for stepped-up action on Syria as he meets with President Barack Obama at the White House. But the U.S. and Turkey remain far apart on how to handle Syria's bloody civil war.


Erdogan is visiting Washington just days after two car bombs in Turkey killed dozens in the deadliest terrorist attack there in years. Turkish authorities have blamed Syrian intelligence, and Erdogan has been calling for more aggressive steps to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.


But the Obama administration remains reluctant to take the kind of action that Turkey would like to see, including establishing a no-fly zone in Syria.


The disagreement is unlikely to spoil a day of pomp for Erdogan, who was meeting with Obama Thursday morning ahead of a formal lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry and again for a working dinner with the president. However, the visit comes at a moment that Obama is struggling with scandals, including the targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS, his response to last year's deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and the seizure of Associated Press phone records in a leak investigation. The topics were expected to come up at a joint news conference following the leaders' morning meeting.


Despite the differences over Syria, Erdogan will welcome the opportunity to showcase his close ties with Obama. He arrives after recently marking 10 years in office, a dominant figure in Turkish politics. As much as Erdogan wants the U.S. to exert greater power in Syria, the Obama administration sees Turkey as a critical broker on a host of issues in the region.


The administration recently negotiated a deal to repair ties between Turkey and Israel, which were severed following a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American. The administration hopes to see an understanding sealed during Erdogan's visit on the compensation for the victims of the raid and families. The U.S. sees reconciliation between Turkey and Israel as critical, as it seeks to revitalize peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.


It is also looking for Turkish help in ramping up sanctions on Iran and in cooling ethnic tensions in Iraq. Both Turkey and the U.S. see an opportunity this year to restart talks on the reunification of Cyprus, an issue that is also likely to come up in talks between Obama and Erdogan. Cyprus was split in 1974, when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of a union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in 1983 is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there. Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a sovereign country.


Following the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey, Erdogan and Obama also will look to step up cooperation on counterterrorism.


Finally, the U.S. administration is likely to reassure Erdogan that Turkey will not lose out as the administration seeks a massive free trade deal with the European Union. And Obama may offer praise for Erdogan's initiative to make peace with Kurdish rebels after a nearly 30-year battle.


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Follow Desmond Butler on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/desmondbutler


Associated Press


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