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If US wants to act in Syria, Turkey could be crucial ally

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to meet with Turkey's foreign minister Monday to discuss the possibility of a 'coalition of the willing' to help civilians in Syria.

By Staff writer / February 9, 2012

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gives an interview in Ankara Wednesday. Davutoglu said that the international community must send a strong message of support to the Syrian people and send aid to residents of the Syrian city of Homs.

Umit Bektas/REUTERS

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WASHINGTON

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with the Turkish foreign minister in Washington Monday, topic No. 1 is expected to be their efforts to create a kind of “coalition of the willing” for Syria – nations that will support Syria’s civilian population while pressuring the Assad regime to cease attacks on opposition.

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Going forward, the No. 1 objective for the Obama administration will be finding a way to support Syria’s pro-democracy opposition forces without feeding a conflict that could spill across the Middle East

In Turkey, the United States finds a useful ally. It was an Assad ally until last summer but has emerged in recent weeks as perhaps the regime’s most dogged foreign opponent. Before departing Ankara Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey is working to form “as soon as possible” a group to coordinate action between Syria’s pro-democracy opposition groups and interested regional and world powers.

Speaking on Turkish television, the foreign minister said such a broad-based international group is urgently needed to prevent the Syrian crisis from sinking the region into “a phase of instability.” 

Last year, Turkey was instrumental in creation of the Libya Contact Group, the group of countries that helped coordinate international humanitarian assistance to the civilian population under attack by the forces of former leader Muammar Qaddafi. The group also provided a platform of support for Libya’s coalescing opposition forces.

Two of the ideas gaining attention in international humanitarian circles, which the group might consider: establishing “safe havens” for beleaguered civilian populations, akin to those NATO enforced in Bosnia in the early 1990s; creating a “buffer zone” inside Syria along the Turkish border for civilians.

The US has so far taken a cautious approach to such proposals, with administration officials insisting the focus remains on supporting the Syrian people without fanning the conflict’s flames.

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