Kerry has minefield to cross in Ankara

Sat, Mar 2, 2013, 00:00

US secretary of state John Kerry yesterday began a highly sensitive two-day visit to Ankara by attending a ceremony honouring a Turkish security guard killed at the gate of the US embassy in a bombing a month ago.

The attack, mounted by the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the US, killed Mustafa Akarsu and wounded journalist Didem Tuncay.

Syrian conflict

During talks with his counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish president Abdullah Gul and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Kerry has to navigate a minefield of issues, starting with the Syrian conflict.

Mr Kerry said the US and Turkey “both believe the first priority is to try and have a political solution” to Syria. “We would like to save lives, not see them caught up in a continuing war.”

However, these words did not bridge the gap between Ankara and Washington. Mr Erdogan has been sharply critical of the US refusal to assume leadership of western, Arab and Syrian forces seeking to oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara has provided sanctuary for Syrian army deserters, armed and trained rebels conducting operations in Syria, and permitted foreign fighters and weapons to enter Syria from Turkish territory. The country is also hosting 185,000 Syrian refugees.

At Turkey’s request, the US and other Nato allies have deployed Patriot anti-missile systems to intercept Syrian rockets or aircraft crossing the Turkish border.

Call for weaponry

Mr Erdogan, however, has appealed to the US and its European allies to supply the rebels with the heavy weaponry needed to tip the balance in their favour.

The US, which fears a fundamentalist takeover of Syria, also has to consider relations with Assad allies Iran and Russia.

Ankara’s plan to pipe oil from Iraq’s Kurdish region across Turkey for export has angered the US-supported Iraqi government, which argues that control over the country’s oil resources should be exercised by the centre rather than the autonomous Kurdish regional government.

Mr Kerry also has to tackle Turkey’s volatile relations with Israel.