Turkey, others decline to join France in ‘Friends of Syria’ media briefing

April 20, 2012, Friday/ 21:03:00/ CELİL SAĞIR

Turkey, US and EU High Representative for External Affairs Catherine Ashton declined to join in press conference with host country France after the “Friends of Syriameeting in Paris aimed at putting pressure on Syrian regime to end 13-month violence in the country.

France asked countries attending the meeting to participate in the news conference but along with Turkey, the some EU member states and even its ally US declined to join the briefing.

Western and Arab diplomats from the "Friends of Syria" group met in Paris on Thursday. At the meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the UN Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria.

Diplomatic sources said the primary reason why countries declined to show off in the press conference is a previous practice in Tunis and İstanbul, two cities that hosted “Friends of Syria” meeting in earlier. In previous meetings, the host country was holding the press conference.

The sources said France invited 14 countries to Paris although the previous İstanbul gathering hosted 83 countries that also made uninvited countries feel isolated. Turkey, who wants to keep the crisis in Syria on top agenda in Paris meeting, approved limited participation but distanced itself from holding joint press conference.

French overture came a week before the first round of presidential elections and the sources said a concern that France might be using a humanitarian issue for electoral calculations reigned in among participating countries that forced them to decline to attend.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu represented Turkey in Paris meeting, along with his counterparts from France, US, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt.

UK, Italy, UAE, Kuwait and Tunisia had low-level participation in the “Friends of Syria” meeting.

The meeting also came month after a controversial bill endorsed by the French Assembly that made it a crime to deny World War I-era mass killings of Armenians at the hand of Ottomans constituted a genocide. The bill, which later overruled by the French Constitutional Council, angered Turkey and prompted it to impose a set of sanctions against France, including cut of all military contacts.

Participating countries in the Paris meeting discussed UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan that includes ceasefire effective last Thursday. Diplomatic sources consider this kind of gatherings as part of a strategy to put pressure on Damascus to end the violence across the country.

Nations also discussed addressing the needs of the Syrian opposition and sought ways to increase the ranks of the opposition. Diplomatic sources said the date of the next meeting has not been decided yet because of the impending elections in France.

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