WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan projected a united front Thursday on Syria, keeping stark differences about how much the U.S. should intervene behind closed doors as they looked to Russia and the global community to close ranks behind efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Under a pair of umbrellas outside a drizzly White House, the two leaders offered no hints about new actions either country would take, but pledged to keep upping the pressure on Assad to leave. After a lengthy meeting focused on Syria, Erdogan sidestepped a question about what he wants Obama to do, even though the Turkish premier has publicly urged the U.S. to take further steps to hasten Assad’s departure. And Obama emphasized that if and when the U.S. takes further action, it won’t be alone.
“I don’t think anybody in the region, including the prime minister, would think that U.S. unilateral actions in and of themselves would bring about a better outcome inside of Syria,” Obama said.
Erdogan, speaking in Turkish, called attention to where the U.S. and Turkey have spoken with one voice.
“Our views do overlap,” he said. “We will continue to explore what we can do together.”
Harmony in the White House Rose Garden obscured the intense debates both leaders are confronting at home and abroad about how to bring to an end a conflict that started in 2011 as a popular uprising and has escalated to claim more than 70,000 lives. Instead, Obama and Erdogan professed both impatience and optimism, hoping that unanimity may compel other players in the conflict to get in line.
“What we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition,” Obama said. “I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results.”
Mindful that support from Russia is a key factor allowing Assad to cling to power, the Obama administration is looking to a joint U.S.-Russian push to launch peace talks.