BEIRUT (AP) — Turkey on Sunday pledged its continued support for the Syrian opposition, saying its leaders should not be pressured into talks with the regime as civil war rages.
Speaking at a security conference in Germany, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country supports efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria, but he understands the opposition's refusal to talk to President Bashar Assad after so many Syrian deaths in the fight to topple him.
"It is easy to say now, (the) opposition should accept to sit with the regime, after 60,000 people have been killed," Davutoglu said at the gathering of top diplomats and security officials in Munich.
"Assuming that tomorrow there is a new election in (Assad's) presence, who will guarantee the safety of the opposition leaders?" Davutoglu said.
Opposition leaders reject any talks with Damascus until Assad steps down. In a sharp departure from their resolve, the coalition's president, Moaz al-Khatib, said Wednesday he is willing to talk to the regime if that would help end bloodshed.
Like the United States and its Western allies, Turkey has repeatedly called on Assad to step down. Assad brushed the calls aside, outlining a peace proposal last month that would put him in charge of national reconciliation talks.
Russia, Assad's most important international ally, said the insistence on his ouster before political talks can begin was counterproductive. Another staunch supporter of Damascus, Iran, said Tehran would welcome the opposition leaders to talks.
"Iran has talked to the opposition," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Munich. "We are ready to be part of the solution," he insisted. "The sooner that we resolve the issue, the better it is."
Salehi talked in Germany on Saturday with al-Khatib, the opposition leader in a rare meeting between a senior Iranian official and an Assad opponent.
Al-Khatib's recent statements in which he said he is ready to talk to regime officials have angered his colleagues in his Syrian National Coalition, which he has been heading since November.
"Mouaz al-Khatib has committed a grave mistake. His duty is to represent the Coalition which categorically refuses to have any talks with any member of the regime before Bashar Assad steps down," said Kamal Labwani, a senior member of the coalition.
"He should respect the will of the people," Labwani told The Associated Press by telephone. "We expect him to apologize publically or to step down."