Turkey deploys troops near Syria
Officials insist movement isn’t confrontational
BEIRUT – Turkish troops and anti-aircraft batteries were headed toward the tense Turkish-Syrian border region Thursday amid reports that U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan was calling for a transitional “national unity” government as a potential solution to the crisis in Syria.
The Turkish deployment appeared moderate in scale and seemed more defensive – and perhaps symbolic – than offensive in nature.
On the diplomatic front, published reports have indicated that a new “road map” from Annan envisions a transitional government in Syria that would include representatives of the opposition and possibly some members of the current government.
However, the plan would reportedly exclude anyone whose presence could “undermine” the transition – wording that many interpret as aimed at President Bashar Assad.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cautioned that any reported additions to the Annan peace plan had not been finalized or agreed upon by all parties.
“There are no approved projects; the work on the possible final document is in progress,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow.
Russia and the United States are among the nations expected to attend an emergency meeting Saturday of Annan’s so-called Action Group for Syria.
The session is a last-ditch effort to salvage Annan’s six-point peace plan, widely violated by both sides. Its centerpiece was a cease-fire that never took hold. Violence has escalated in recent weeks in Syria, where Assad’s forces have been battling an uprising for more than 15 months.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said Annan’s “political transition road map” for Syria could signify a breakthrough in stalled diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
“You have to have a transition that complies with international standards on human rights, accountable governance, the rule of law, equal opportunity for all people of Syria, and this framework lays out how to arrive at that,” Clinton told reporters Thursday during a visit to Riga, Latvia.
U.S. officials appear set to argue that Assad’s continued presence in Syria would not fit into the proposed framework. Clinton and Lavrov are scheduled to meet today in St. Petersburg and discuss the issue.
The raging conflict in Syria has reverberated into Turkey, which shares a 500-mile border with the nation.
Turkish media reported that a convoy of about 30 military vehicles, including trucks with missile launchers, was being deployed Thursday along the border in southern Hatay province.
Turkish officials have stressed that they want to avoid a military confrontation with Syria, but they were enraged last week when Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet off Syria’s coast. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said border security would be bolstered and that any Syrian military units approaching Turkey would be regarded as a threat.