Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Tuesday ruled out as futile any dialogue with the regime in Damascus, which he said continued “massacring its people” even over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Davutoğlu was responding to a question regarding Russia's call for dialogue between Ankara and the Syrian regime. Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has called for dialogue not only with the opposition but also with the Syrian government. "Hardly anything will be accomplished without dialogue with the [Syrian] government, and that is the only problem that remains in the path towards a political process," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP after a meeting with UN special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on Monday.
Lavrov also said Russia aims to assist UN and Arab League efforts to stabilize Syria and begin a political dialogue based on provisions of a deal agreed upon at an international conference in Geneva this summer. Participants agreed on principles for a transitional government formed on the basis of “mutual consent” in Syria.
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Costa Rican counterpart, Enrique Castillo, Davutoğlu said Ankara supports the immediate launch of efforts to establish a transitional government as part of the Geneva conclusions, but rejected the idea of dialogue with the Syrian regime as part of such efforts. “There can be no point in dialogue with a regime that continues to massacre its own people even during Eid,” he said, warning that steps that could give legitimacy to the regime should be avoided while violence rages in Syria.
He said Turkey wanted a transition process that would reflect the will of the Syrian people and in which those who were “not involved in the bloodshed against the Syrian people” would play a role.
Davutoğlu told reporters that he was saddened that the UN-brokered holiday truce did not hold, a failure he blamed on heavy government air bombardment in opposition-held areas in Idlib on the Turkish border and in southern Damascus. He also criticized the UN Security Council for failing to give a strong message to Damascus to end the 19-month violence.
Davutoğlu's remarks came a day after Syrian fighter jets pounded rebel areas across the country with scores of air strikes that anti-regime activists called the most widespread bombing in a single day since the Syrian conflict started 19 months ago.
The death toll for what was supposed to be a four-day ceasefire between the regime of President Assad and opposition fighters seeking his overthrow exceeded 500.
Monday was supposed to be the fourth and final day of an internationally sanctioned ceasefire to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest periods of the Muslim calendar. But violence marred the truce almost immediately after it was to go into effect on Friday and continued apace through the weekend.
Turkey and Russia are at opposing ends on Syria. While Ankara supports the Syrian opposition, Moscow remains a backer of the Assad regime, blocking attempts in the UN Security Council to condemn the Syrian government for the violence. But the two countries have significantly improved their political and economic ties and are careful not to let the disagreements over Syria mar those relations.
Davutoğlu said consultations between Turkey and Russia on Syria continue and that Turkey is open to “every idea regarding joint steps.”
Turkey has recently offered talks that would involve Russia and Iran, another ally of the Syrian regime, on ways to end the Syrian crisis, and supported Brahimi's initiative for a truce during Eid al-Adha.
Davutoğlu added that Turkey continues trilateral talks with Iran and Egypt and said Ankara attaches importance to similar consultations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the Syrian crisis.
The foreign minister noted that Turkey maintained its relations with Syria for months and continued with its dialogue efforts, adding that the Syrian regime must show the will to reconcile with its own people. He said it would be impossible for talks with others to succeed if the Syrian regime did not display such a desire.
World powers remain divided on how to stop Syria's crisis, with the US and many Arab and European nations calling for Assad to step down while Russia, China and Iran continue to back the regime. But with the sides largely stalemated on the battlefield and little international appetite for military intervention, few expect the war to end soon.
Anti-regime activists say more than 35,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising started in March 2011.
The holiday ceasefire was the first international effort in months to try to stop the violence, but it appeared to accomplish little.
Efforts for release of journalist continue
The foreign minister also said the government was still working for the release of Turkish journalist Cüneyt Ünal, who has been held in Syria since August, and disclosed that it was in talks with “elements on the ground” and with all international actors that could be influential in efforts for his release. There are also “initiatives at the level of the Syrian government,” according to Davutoğlu.
He said Ünal was being held by the Syrian regime, despite earlier statements from the Syrian authorities denying this claim.
A recently taken picture of Ünal was released at the weekend, showing him alive and well. Davutoğlu welcomed the release of the photo and said the government was working “day and night” for his release.
Ünal, a cameraman working for Virginia-based Al Hurra TV, was first seen in video footage aired on the pro-government Syrian news channel al-Ikhbariya in late August talking about how he had arrived in Syria and what he had experienced -- an event to which Turkey reacted strongly, saying that the Syrian government would be held accountable for the safety and well-being of the Turkish citizen abducted by regime forces. Ünal, who appeared very tired and had difficulty speaking in the video, had blackened eyes, indicating that he had been assaulted either during the abduction or whilst in captivity.
In the recent photo, Ünal looked healthy, although according to his wife he appeared to have lost weight.