Washington, Ankara strategize on Syria: Rebels will get 'non-lethal' aid
SEOUL - US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Sunday on the need to send "non-lethal" aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, a US official said.
The leaders agreed that a "Friends of Syria" group meeting on April 1 should seek to provide such aid and medical supplies, as they met in South Korea on the eve of a nuclear security summit, said US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
Erdogan said, “We cannot remain a spectator to these developments”.
Washington has said several times that it is looking at providing non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whom the United States says should step down.
The rebels are badly outgunned by Syria's armed forces but the White House has said that it does not favour arming the rebels, arguing that further "militarising" the conflict would worsen civilian bloodshed.
In the talks with Erdogan, Obama said the United States and Turkey agreed that "there should be a process" of transition to a "legitimate government" in Syria.
Erdogan noted that 17,000 refugees had fled to Turkey from Syria and said "we cannot be spectators" to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the crackdown on rebel groups that has killed more than 9,000 people, according to monitors.
However the Obama administration appears to fear that any weapons sent to Syria would be at risk of falling into the wrong hands, and does not appear to have confidence in rebel groups or a clear picture of their makeup.
Washington has also ruled out unilateral military action in Syria, and says there is no coalition favouring multilateral action like that which ousted Libya's Moamer Gathafi last year.
The two leaders also on Sunday discussed Iran, with Obama reiterating a warning he made earlier this month that the "window" for diplomacy to end a showdown with the Islamic republic over its nuclear programme was closing.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month that the United States was looking at providing non-lethal aid such as radio equipment to help opposition forces in their fight against Assad's regime.
But he declined to go further in a public forum.
Obama and Erdogan met for an hour and forty-five minutes in South Korea, as fighting escalated in Syria, with blasts rocking the flashpoint city of Homs.
Rebels meanwhile attacked a military base in Damascus province, activists and monitors said.
As the year-old conflict showed no signs of abating, rebel fighters set up a military council to unify their ranks and political opposition leaders called a meeting of all dissident groups to forge common objectives.
The latest violence came as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was in Moscow to seek the vital backing of Russia, a key ally of the Syrian regime, for his plan to end the bloodshed.
There are growing signs that Moscow is beginning to lose patience with Assad, despite his commitment to massive new Russian arms purchases and the granting of key naval access to the Mediterranean.