Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Thursday said Russia and Iran would soon realize they had little choice but to join international diplomatic efforts for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He acknowledged, however, the divisions in the Syrian opposition and its lack of preparedness to take power, saying it must create a structure that embraces all segments of society.
Turkey has been at the forefront of fostering the Syrian opposition since abandoning its long-time ally Assad over his violent crackdown on protests. The opposition Syrian National Council meets in Istanbul and the 'Free Syrian Army' operates from Turkish soil on the Syrian border.
Turkey and Western and Arab allies were angered by Russia's vetoing, along with China, of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Assad's use of force, which has intensified in past days with a siege against the city of Homs.
"We have to wait and see how long Russia will be able to take upon itself the burden of this regime," he told Reuters in an interview. "In my opinion, it won't be very long. In the time of the Cold War, such things happened in a very closed environment. I think in time Russia will see its support has been abused by the Syrian regime. They will recognize this fact when they see the heavy weapons being used against the people in Syria. That is not very tolerable, not even for Russia."
Russia has continued to supply arms to Syria as protests have grown, with the formation of rebel military units, into something approaching civil war. Defeated Syrian rebels pulled out of the city of Homs on Thursday after a 26-day army bombardment, but fighting continues across the country. Sources say arms are being brought into Syria for the opposition forces by non-government parties. Russia and China moved a step toward joining international action on Thursday when they joined other Security Council members in expressing "deep disappointment" that Damascus had refused to allow United Nations humanitarian aid chief, Valerie Amos, into the country.
In vetoing the resolution, Russia had argued that both sides of Syria's conflict should be condemned for the violence, not just Assad's government. The Turkish presidency is not executive and most power in the country rests with the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gül, however, commands great personal influence and plays a central role in foreign policy. According to Gül, Ankara was talking to Iran, a close ally of Assad, in an effort to persuade it to accept the inevitable and back diplomatic action against Assad.
"Even Iran doesn't have the power to make water run uphill. And if the worse scenario were to come true, it is not possible that Iran could not feel any responsibility for that. It will be responsible," Gül said, adding that Russia and Iran should be persuaded by the international community and countries of the region to persuade the Syrian government to accept reality and stop the crackdown.
He cited the 'Yemeni Model' as the most reasonable option as a way out for Assad. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped aside, under pressure from Gulf Arab states, with guarantees of protection to allow an election for a new leader.
Gül has warned in the past of the danger of violence in Syria fueling sectarian conflict that could envelop the entire Muslim Middle East.
"It's a trap in the region, and similar incidents happened in the Middle Ages in Europe. The Middle East should not repeat these mistakes," he said. "We know that the danger is there, but awareness is also there."
In Syria, any new administration must find ways of accommodating Sunni Muslims and Christians, as well as the Alawites who have been the bedrock of Assad's rule.
Putin Defends Russia's Stance on Syria
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has strongly criticized the West for backing the Syrian opposition against the government, saying it has fueled the conflict.
On Friday, Putin called for both the Syrian government, and opposition forces, to pull out of besieged cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of President Bashar al-Assad's opponents has encouraged them to keep fighting.
"Do they want Assad to pull out his forces so the opposition moves right in?" Putin said at a meeting with editors of top Western newspapers in remarks carried by state television. "Is it a balanced approach?"
Putin ridiculed Western demands of Assad, saying the next thing they want will be for the Syrian leader "to grab a wooden mackintosh and have music play in his house."
Assad "will not hear (the music) because it will be his funeral," Putin said. "He will never agree to that demand."
Putin refused to speculate on Assad's chance of holding onto power, saying that reforms in Syria have been long overdue and it's unclear whether the government and the opposition could find a consensus; Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East.
Last month, Putin defended the Russia-China veto of a UN resolution condemning Assad's crackdown on protests, saying that Moscow wants to prevent the replay of what happened in Libya, where a NATO air campaign helped Libyan opposition forces oust Moammar Gadhafi. Putin said that while Gadhafi's regime was "crazy," its ouster led to the massive killings of civilians.
"Instead of encouraging parties to the conflict, it's necessary to force them to sit down for talks and begin political procedures and political reforms that would be acceptable for all participants in the conflict," he said. Putin also reaffirmed a strong warning against an attack on Iran.
"For us, it will have extremely negative consequences," he said, adding that a strike on Iran will likely trigger a flow of refugees into Russia.
Prime Minister Lashes Out at Leading Business Group
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD, for having a "blind ideology" as he kept up an attack on the business group over its criticism of the planned education reform.
"They are confusing people with their blind ideology in order to block our recovery efforts in the field of education. But we will not allow this. We are not the government of elites and bosses," he said.
The government's education reform plan came under fire by opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations as the plan envisaged vocational education starting after the first four years of school, at the age of 10. Critics indicated that students in Western countries were asked to choose vocational programs no earlier than the age of 16.
Speaking at the press conference revealing the new sign of the Turkish Lira Thursday, Erdoğan said uninterrupted eight-year compulsory education harmed both society and the economy.
"An association representing the businessmen shot itself in the foot by imposing its own ideology. Vocational schools became dysfunctional after the Feb. 28 [1997 National Security Council] decisions. The industrialists, economy, people and the country suffered from it. They [TÜSİAD] are trying to repeat a mistake they made before," Erdoğan said.
Uninterrupted eight-year compulsory education was enforced after the "Feb. 28 process" of 1997, closing down the middle classes of vocational schools. The motivation behind this decision was seen as wanting to block students from attending imam-hatip religious schools at a younger age.
Last week, TÜSİAD chair Ümit Boyner criticized the government's plan, indicating that the separation of primary education into two tiers and efforts to associate the second tier with "open learning" could cause problems in girls' schooling rates.
The government later agreed to present students with home-schooling options after eight compulsory years in school rather than four, but Erdoğan urged the business group "to mind their own business."
Erdogan Set to Visit Iran for Nuclear Talks
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to pay a visit to neighboring Iran to discuss the results of an international nuclear security summit set to take place in South Korea in late March; the summit will focus on Iran's disputed nuclear enrichment program.
Erdoğan will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran during the week following the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit from March 26 to 27. The prime minister is scheduled to deliver the final message at the summit.
Erdoğan first planned to head to Tehran on March 28 after attending the meeting in Seoul, but Iran wanted the meeting to be held the following week because Ahmadinejad would not be in Tehran. During the Seoul nuclear summit, Erdoğan is set to suggest that a second meeting between Iran and the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany -- could be held in İstanbul. The prospective second round of talks is expected to start in April if all parties reach an agreement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced at a press conference held in Iran on Feb. 19 that the next round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran will probably be held in İstanbul, but did not specify a timeframe.
The Seoul nuclear summit will host detailed discussions on how international cooperation can be used to mitigate nuclear threats. EU governments and the U.S., as well as regional countries such as Israel, have deep concerns over Iran's uranium enrichment program, which is allegedly part of a wider program to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran is insisting that its nuclear program is solely for the purposes of generating energy.
Erdoğan will resume his schedule of diplomatic visits in March, after having recovered from a second round of surgery on his digestive system.
On March 17, Erdoğan will visit the German city of Bochum to attend the Der Steiger awards ceremony, where he will receive the award for international leadership, granted annually to individuals for their achievements in such areas as politics, media, sports and the environment. In addition to Erdoğan, Queen Silvia of Sweden and former German President Horst Köhler will be honored at the event.
Crosses on Alevi Doors 'Child's Play,' Minister Says
Markings found on the doors of Alevis' houses in the eastern province of Adıyaman are mere "child's play" and not a premonition of an attack, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said.
"You may ask how the police reached the conclusion that some children drew those signs, but the signs' height is at the point where a child can reach. There is no need to exaggerate the incident, some Sunni family houses were also marked, not just Alevis' [houses], according to the investigation we launched," he said.
But Republican People's Party, or CHP, Deputy Sabahat Akkiray said the government had the responsibility to protect Alevis.
"They are frightened and waiting in turns night and day. Alevis have been through several massacres in recent history of the country. A new massacre, possibly like [past] ones in Kahramanmaraş, Sivas or Çorum, is on their minds," Akkiray said.
Akkiray, a famous Alevi singer-turned-deputy who goes by the stage name of Sabahat Akkiraz, called on the government to take necessary precautions before any attacks. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented on the incident, saying, "Whoever committed this atrociousness, I condemn it."
Bozdağ also said this could be part of an "evil game." Celal Dinçer, a CHP deputy, said Turkey was familiar with such conspiracies.
"We saw the same in the provinces of Erzincan, Kahramanmaraş and Sivas. We have to take seriously what happened in Adıyaman; we can't evaluate it as 'child's play.' The tension in Turkey is increasing. Some dark forces may try to create turmoil in Turkey. I am calling on the prosecutors and the local authorities to do their duties and reveal the actors of the incident," Dinçer said.
The doors of a number of houses belonging to members of the Alevi community in Adıyaman were marked with crosses by unknown people, CHP Deputy Hüseyin Aygün announced on his Facebook account on Wednesday. A similar method was used to mark the houses of Alevis prior to the Maraş Massacre of 1978, in which at least 105 people were killed.
Davutoglu Briefs Parliament on Commission on Syria
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with members of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission Thursday in order to discuss Turkey's current foreign policy issues.
The main opposition raised criticisms over Turkey's policy including that concerning the Syrian crisis, one of the participants said.
"We oppose the Syrian regime using violence against its people. However, there should not be a direct intervention," Osman Korutürk, deputy from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told Hürriyet Daily News. "We also stressed the need to be careful on international legitimacy."
Providing national reconciliation was important for the success of foreign policy, the minister told reporters at the meeting.
"Sure, there will be diffident opinions. They will be expressed in different ways. What is important is to share perspectives," Davutoğlu said. "We got into an enormous process of change in which great opportunities are coming along with great challenges when considering both economic crises and political crises nearby Turkey."