Syrian leader visits Ankara

Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived here Tuesday for a four-day visit to discuss regional issues and bilateral ties, Anatolia news agency reported.Assad was to dine with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on Tuesday evening ahead of formal talks on Wednesday that will include meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

He will also travel to Istanbul before wrapping up his visit on Friday.

Turkish-Syrian relations have significantly improved in recent years since a long period of animosity ended in 1998 when Damascus forced Turkish Kurd rebel Abdullah Ocalan to leave his long-time safe haven in Syria.

Ocalan was subsequently captured in Kenya in 1999 and jailed for life. Ankara believes it can use the thaw as leverage to help ease Middle East tensions, drawing also on its close ties with both Israel and the Palestinians.

Iraq pushes for diplomacy

Iraq urged Turkey on Tuesday not to launch a major attack on Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq after Erdogan said Turkey would strike the rebels when the timing and conditions were right.

Baghdad sent Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq Hashemi to Ankara and called for urgent talks to head off military action that Washington fears could sow chaos in an area so far spared much of the carnage afflicting other parts of Iraq.

“A political solution must be given priority to resolve this critical issue,” Hashemi told reporters at Ankara airport. “We can understand Turkey’s anger but what I’m aiming to achieve during my visit is a common understanding,” he said ahead of talks with the premier, foreign minister and president.

Erdogan’s Cabinet asked parliament on Monday for permission to launch cross-border offensives following a spate of Kurdish separatist attacks. Approval is expected on Wednesday.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that securing permission for a major attack against rebels in northern Iraq did not necessarily mean a military incursion was imminent. Instead, Erdogan said: “We will act at the right time and under the right conditions.”

Turkey, for its part, argues that the United States and Iraq have done too little to curb some 3,000 Kurdish rebels attacking eastern Turkey in pursuit of an independent state there.

Dozens of soldiers and civilians have been killed in recent weeks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, piling pressure on the government to act.

Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed struggle in southeast Turkey.

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