Davutoğlu: Assad should have no place in Syrian transitional gov’t

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

July 03, 2012, Tuesday/ 15:56:00

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play no part in a transitional government, but suggested that the Syrian opposition would do well to accept envoy Kofi Annan’s internationally endorsed proposal.

“Our task is not to pressure the opposition or to convince them of something,” Davutoğlu told Sky News Arabia in Cairo, where Syrian opposition groups are meeting for the second day. He added that Annan’s role as mediator means the opposition will not have to negotiate with Assad under the transition plan. “Thus, I believe that accepting the Geneva statement would be a positive thing for the opposition,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by Sky News Arabia on Tuesday.

World powers agreed at a meeting in Geneva on Saturday, organized by Annan, that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there. However, Annan failed to bridge differences between the West and Russia -- backed by China -- on whether Syrian President Assad must resign.

Stating that it is obvious that the Syrian administration should change, Davutoğlu said Russia and China have also acknowledged that there is need for “change” in Syria after the Geneva talks. The two big powers have repeatedly vetoed Western- and Arab-driven efforts at the United Nations to isolate and ultimately force Assad to step down to defuse an uprising and begin a democratic transition.

Commenting on recently escalating tensions between Syria and Turkey after the former shot down a Turkish jet in what Turkey says was international airspace, Davutoğlu accused the Syrian side of escalating tensions. “Any attack on the borders of Turkey is an attack against NATO,” he said. “But we still try to address the issue as a bilateral one.”

“Turkey has the ability to reply to any aggression on its territory, and should not be a tested in this regard,” he added. “The downing of our jet is a crime which cannot be left unpunished.” On June 22 Syrian shot down a Turkish jet, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet that, according to Ankara, was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems and was hit in international airspace after briefly straying into Syrian airspace. Syria described the incident as an act of self-defense, while Turkey has insisted the act will “not go unpunished,” emphasizing that it does not intend to go to war with Syria.

Turkey has responded to the downing of its warplane by declaring that it is changing the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) rules of engagement and deploying anti-aircraft missiles to the border. Turkey’s armed forces command said on Tuesday that it had scrambled F-16 fighter jets for a third consecutive day on Monday after Syrian transport helicopters were spotted flying near to the Turkish-Syrian border, but added that they have not violated Turkish airspace.

The military added in its statement that a total of six jets, four from a base in Incirlik in the south and two from Batman in eastern Turkey, were scrambled in response to Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, within 1.7-4.5 nautical miles of the Turkish border.