05/17/2013, 00.00
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Washington: Obama talks to Erdogan, against shipping weapons to the rebels

As talks get underway with Moscow, the US president speaks with Turkey’s PM, Syrian rebels’ main ally. The two leaders discuss Syria’s democratic future and Assad’s necessary departure. Ankara voices doubts about a peace conference between rebels and regime backed by Moscow and Washington. After decades, Russian Pacific fleet warships enter the Mediterranean.

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Obama in Washington today confirms the middle-of-the-road position taken by the US leader, who is open to Russian concerns as well as eager to keep lines of communication open with Turkey, a NATO member and the anti-Assad alliance's main ally.

The two leaders discussed the need for a democratic future in Syria, which can only come about once Bashar Al-Assad is out of office. Obama renewed his political support for the opposition, but called for limits on weapons shipment to the rebels from Turkey and the Gulf countries because they could strengthen Islamist forces on the ground.

US-Turkish talks come a few days after US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to discuss the Assad regime's overtures to the Kofi Annan June 2012 six-point plan.

Obama administration officials said that the US president is taking a cautious approach even in relation to charges that Assad's forces used chemical weapons, which could otherwise trigger US action in the Syrian conflict. For his part, the Turkish prime minister seems skeptical that the peace conference Washington is planning with Assad's main ally Moscow will lead to reconciliation.

Meanwhile, warships from Russia's Pacific Fleet have entered the Mediterranean for the first time in decades. The vessels left the Far-Eastern port city of Vladivostok in March to join Russia's Mediterranean task force.  The Mediterranean task force might be enlarged later to include nuclear submarines.

At present, the warships are heading to Cyprus but it is not clear what their final port of call is. A few months ago, Moscow announced plans to rebuild its naval base in the Mediterranean, in the Syrian port city of Tartus.

However, Moscow's intentions are still hard to read after Western mainstream media reported that Russia had allegedly shipped anti-missile systems.  This has overshadowed a meeting between Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the Russian-US plan to bring the Syrian government and rebels to the negotiating table.

Responding to the allegations, Lavrov said that Russian supplies did not break any international rules, that Russia had signed a deal to supply Syria with Yakhont missiles in 2007, and that the weapons are designed to protect against air planes and did not benefit in any way Syria's regular army. 

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