Iranian and Turkish leaders exchanged sharply opposing views yesterday as they discussed how to handle the crisis in Syria.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran strongly supports reforms in Syria under President Bashar Assad, but visiting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogad said Assad could not be trusted and must step down.
The unusual public acknowledgment of sharp differences between the two neighbours came on the second day of a state visit to Iran by Erdogan.
Iran is Syria’s closest ally, and Tehran has staunchly backed Assad during Syria’s yearlong uprising. Khamenei told Erdogan, “Iran will defend Syria because of (its) support of the resistance front against the Zionist regime and is strongly opposed to any interference by foreign forces in Syria’s internal affairs,” and rejected Turkey’s position that Assad must step down.
It was not clear how Erdogan responded to Khamenei, but hours later he told Iran’s state TV that Assad’s regime can’t be trusted. “If Assad doesn’t fear (an election), he should give a ballot box to the people and let parties take shape. (Assad’s) Baath should not form a party and must be regarded as a thing of the past,” Erdogan said. “We can’t put the previous years in front of us.”
Meanwhile, Turkey is set to host about 60 countries, including the United States, for a “Friends of the Syrian People” conference in Istanbul on Sunday. The participants will discuss ways to further isolate and pressure Assad, as well as measures to support the Syrian opposition.