When reporters questioned him on the latest Syrian developments, Erdoğan said he has been having difficulty understanding Putin’s statement that Russia could act with the West if presented with convincing evidence that the Assad regime carried out a chemical attack that killed over 1,300 people.
“You will kill people with planes and this won’t be a crime. But when you kill with chemicals, then this is a crime. First we should decide if killing is a crime or not. … You won’t call the killing of 100,000 people a crime, but when 1,300 or 130 people are killed, you say you will stand by the UN if the use of chemical weapons is proven. This strikes me as odd,” Erdoğan said, stressing that the Syrian civil war drew the attention of the international community only after the chemical attack.
In an interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television on Tuesday, Putin said that Russia “doesn’t exclude” supporting a UN resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. However, the Russian president said “it should be a deep and specific probe containing evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used.”
Putin also said it was “ludicrous” that Assad’s government would use chemical weapons at a time when it was holding sway over the rebels.
Reiterating that Turkey has no doubt that chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Erdoğan said that the whole world had seen the footage of little children’s dead bodies. “If you watch the footage [of the children] carefully, you can see that there is no blood or bullet wound and realize they were killed by chemical bombs. The Syrian regime approved the use of chemicals but put the blame on the opposition,” Erdoğan said, arguing that there is no need to debate whether chemical weapons were used in Syria.
G-20 summits deal with global economic issues but the meeting in St. Petersburg may be dominated by an international crisis over allegations that the Syrian government used poison gas against its own citizens.
The Turkish prime minister said that US President Barack Obama’s decision to request congressional approval for military action in Syria could be seen as an “internal policy decision” and a sign of Obama’s confidence.
Facing dwindling support from traditional allies that seemed keen on a military intervention at first, Obama announced on Saturday that he would ask Congress to approve a planned military strike on Syria even though as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces he has the authority to order military action without specific congressional authorization. Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval has postponed any foreign intervention in Syria at least until Congress’s return from summer recess on Sept. 9.
Calling the summit of the world’s largest 20 economies a good opportunity to discuss the war in Syria, Erdoğan confirmed that he has plans to meet with Obama and Putin. Turkey’s prime minister is expected to push Obama for more assertive action and try to convince Putin of the need for military action in Syria.
“Obama said that he will only attend the opening of the summit. Although it will be a brief talk, we will have an opportunity to negotiate with him. We will also meet with Putin. However, as he will do the honors [as the host of the summit], that meeting will be short. Our situation is different [than that of other countries]. Having 911 kilometers of border [with Syria] and suffering from some problems, we will use our time more efficiently,” Erdoğan said.
Several Turkish dailies, citing statements from Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, reported on Tuesday that the meeting between Putin and Erdoğan will be a “brief talk.”
Erdoğan also addressed Syria’s threat of armed retaliation against Turkey. Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Miqdad, said recently that if the intervention goes ahead, Syria would strike not only Israel but also Jordan and Turkey.
Erdoğan said: “Syria is suffering from a serious management problem. I have no idea what the Assad [regime] relies on while making such statements. Turkey is ready for a possible attack. Is Syria ready for such a thing? I don’t know.”