The question of how far the United States will go in its involvement in Syria was on the table this week as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Obama at the White House in order to ensure that the U.S. takes more of an active role in trying to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of office.
Assad has been fighting rebels in his country for the past two years, resulting in the death of at least 80,000 Syrians, but Turkey is afraid that if the conflict isn’t ended soon, it will bleed into neighboring Turkey and endanger the enormous gains Turkey has made in recent years to grow its economy and move a majority of its citizens into the middle class for the first time.
Obama and Erdogan were quick to point out the fact that their to nations want the same thing in Syria. Obama said Erdogan was “at the forefront” of efforts to achieve a democratic Syria, and he said Turkey will play a key role in coming weeks.
“We both agree that Assad needs to go,” the president said. “He needs to transfer to a transitional body. That is the only way that we are going to resolve this crisis. We are going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad’s tyranny, that is intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups and that is the source of stability not extremism, because it is in the profound interests of all our nations, especially Turkey.”
For his part, Erdogan said Turkish and U.S. views “overlap” on Syria. He said both nations want to end bloodshed and establish a new government, see the departure of Assad, prevent Syria from becoming a base for terrorists, and prevent the use of chemical weapons.
“You are talking about the part of the glass which is empty,” Erdogan said when asked what would happen if the U.S. didn’t step up its involvement. “I would like to look at things with the glass half full, instead of half empty. What we would like to see is the sensitivity on the part of the international community with respect to what is going on in Syria. This is what we as Turkey strive for and I do believe the United States is doing the same.”
The prime minister said information on Syria’s use of chemical weapons has been shared with all countries and the United Nations.
“The use of chemical weapons is something that the civilized world has recognized should be out of bounds,” Obama said. “As we gather more evidence and work together, my intention is to make sure that we are presenting everything that we know to the international community as an additional reason and an additional mechanism for the international community to put all the pressure they can on the Assad regime.”
Turkey has benefitted from a steady infusion of foreign investment over the past decade, leading the global ratings agency Fitch last November to give Turkish bonds investment-grade for the first time since 1994. Turkey’s growth has exceeded 8 percent annually at times over the last few years, propelling Turkey into the Group of 20 industrialized nations.