WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama hosted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Thursday and noted that the US and Turkey had a "shared interest in peace," stressing the two nations' desire to "normalize ties with Israel."
The US president added that he and the Turkish prime minister were to "keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad tyranny." In regards to "ending this bloody process in Syria," Erdogan noted that Turkey and the US were in "full agreement."
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Addressing the war in Syria, the Turkish prime minister said he was interested in speeding "things up in a way that would prevent the death of more people," adding that his aim was to end tyranny in the war-torn country and promote democracy.
Obama said there was evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria but that it was important to get "more specific information" to confirm that before deciding how to respond.
Erdogan, Obama (Photo: AFP)
Obama – who has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels or become enmeshed militarily in the two-year-old conflict – expressed hope that the United States and Russia would succeed in arranging a peace conference that would produce results.
But the president, who had insisted chemical weapons use would be a "game changer," made clear, however, that Washington was keeping all options on the table, though he did not provide specifics.
"There are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in," he told reporters. "And I preserve the options of taking additional steps, both diplomatic and military, because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as our allies and friends and neighbors."
Erdogan said Turkey was in "full consensus" with the US on the need to end the bloodshed in Syria and for a political transition to a government without Assad.
The US recently negotiated a deal to repair ties between Turkey and Israel, which were severed following a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in which eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed.
Obama's administration hopes to see an understanding sealed during Erdogan's visit on compensation for the victims of the raid and their families.
The US sees reconciliation between Turkey and Israel as critical as it seeks to revitalize peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Washington is also looking for Turkish help in ramping up sanctions on Iran and in cooling ethnic tensions in Iraq.
Following the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey, Erdogan and Obama also will look to step up cooperation on counterterrorism.
The Turkish prime minister said that he intended to go ahead with a planned trip to the Gaza Strip in June despite US Secretary of State John Kerry's request that he postpone his visit to the Palestinian Authority, fearing that such a visit might endanger US efforts to revive Turkey's ties with Israel and to advance Middle East peace talks.
"I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East," Erdogan said, adding that he also planned to visit the West Bank on that trip.
Erdogan further said that he hoped his visit to Gaza and the West Bank could "contribute to unity" in the region.
Reuters, AP contributed to this report
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