SEOUL, Republic of Korea — President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for almost two hours Sunday, focusing mostly on the next steps for Turkey’s neighbor, Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been leading a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy forces in his country, leading to international condemnation.
The president said that he and Erdogan “worked on a common agenda in terms of how we can support both humanitarian efforts” as well as ways to convince Assad to step down, the president said. These would include encouraging Iran to stop its support for the Assad regime.
Both leaders agreed to further “non-lethal” aid for the Syrian opposition, a top Obama aide later said, such as communications support and medical aid, to be discussed further at the next “Friends of Syria” meeting, to be held in Turkey on April 1.
“It’s important to the opposition as they’re formulating their vision of an inclusive and democratic Syria to have the ability to communicate,” said Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communication.
Critics of the president’s policy have called for the U.S. and others to take their support a step further, by helping to arm the rebel forces, but the White House has balked, saying that such a step could prove destructive.
Erdogan had once believed his close friendship with Assad – their families had even gone on vacation together – would help influence the Syrian regime, but his diplomatic efforts ultimately proved fruitless.