U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive today in Ankara as part of his first trip aboard as Washington’s top diplomat with Syria likely to dominate the agenda after he pledged millions in “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels yesterday.
“The U.S. will be providing an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to support the efforts of the Syrian opposition coalition over the coming months,” he said yesterday after a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome.
“We will be sending medical supplies and food to the [rebel] Supreme Military Council; so there will be direct assistance,” he said, adding that the goal was to give a boost to the opposition and show Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he could not use violence to resolve the conflict. “This is the beginning of the process that will change [al-Assad’s] calculations.”
Kerry will hold talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, although it is not clear whether the talks will help the two NATO allies narrow their differences on Syria.
While Ankara has been aggressive in its policy toward Syria and is not eager to consider the continuation of al-Assad’s government – even as a transitional administration –Washington is notably hesitant toward a decisive move against al-Assad. Washington appears to prefer seeing the government fall without intervening in the situation via further help or support to the opposition.
Kerry’s visit to Ankara is part of a tour which is taking him to nine countries in Western Europe and the Middle East. In Rome, both Kerry and Davuto?lu participated in a Friends of Syria conference. While in the Italian capital, both of them held separate bilateral talks with the head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Mouaz al-Khatib.
Just a few days ago, noting that Syria would be an issue during Kerry’s visit, Erdo?an expressed his pessimism saying: “[The U.S.] has not assumed responsibility yet. What we can discuss about and to what extent?”
A U.S. State Department official said the $60 million in aid would be used to help local councils and communities in liberated areas in Syria, to provide basic goods and services and “fulfill administrative functions including security, sanitation and education services.”