US Secretary of State, Turkey’s foreign minister meet in Istanbul in bid to devise strategy that would end bloodshed in Syria; plan for possibility Assad may use WMDs on rebels
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkey’s foreign minister said Saturday that their countries are creating a formal structure to plan for worst-case scenarios in Syria, including a possible chemical weapons attack on regime opponents.
Clinton and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that their two nations would set up a working group to respond to the crisis in Syria as conditions there deteriorate.
They said the group will coordinate military, intelligence and political responses to the potential fallout in the case of a chemical attack, which would result in medical emergencies and a likely rise in the number of refugees fleeing Syria.
Clinton said the group was needed in order to explore the “real details” of potential new crises.
The visit comes after Washington on Friday announced sanctions on Syrian state oil company Sytrol for trading with Iran, in a bid to starve the regimes in both Tehran and Damascus of much-needed revenue.
The US Treasury also said it was adding the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has close ties with Iran and Syria, to a blacklist of organizations targeted under Syria-related sanctions.
Washington already classes Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” and it is under US sanctions, but Friday’s move explicitly ties the group to the violence in Syria, where Assad is attempting to put down a 17-month revolt.
The sanctions are designed to increase pressure on the Assad regime as the conflict escalates sharply after the failure of former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan‘s peace plan and his dramatic resignation.
In Istanbul, Clinton will have “lengthy and in-depth conversation” with Turkey’s president, prime minister and foreign minister to discuss a three-pronged strategy, a US official said.
The first aspect is “how we judge the effectiveness of what we are doing in terms of supporting the opposition,” the official said, adding that pressure and isolation of the regime was part of the strategy.
Clinton is expected to discuss with Turkey’s leaders ways to effectively enforce sanctions against Damascus.