London Summons Syrian Envoy as Ankara Says 'Early' to Call on Assad to Go
Britain summoned Syria’s ambassador Friday in coordination with other EU nations to warn of fresh sanctions against the regime if it fails to stop a crackdown on protesters, as Turkey's premier said it was premature to say whether President Bashar al-Assad should quit.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said it had "called in the Syrian Ambassador Dr. Sami Khiyami ... to express the UK’s strong concerns about the ongoing situation in Syria."
Foreign Office political director Geoffrey Adams told him that "unless the Syrian government stopped the killing of protestors and released political prisoners, the UK along with its EU partners would take further measures to hold the regime to account."
"These measures would include further sanctions targeted at the highest levels of the regime, including travel bans and asset freezing," the statement added.
Adams also called on Damascus to respect human rights including freedom of expression and urged Syria to allow U.N. access to besieged protest-hit Syrian cities including Daraa.
A Foreign Office spokesman told Agence France Presse it was "part of a coordinated EU move" but did not say how many other countries were involved. Five EU nations summoned the Syrian ambassadors to their countries in April.
Last month Britain withdrew Khiyami's invitation to the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine.
The European Union on Tuesday enforced sanctions on President Assad's brother and inner circle, and warned the Syrian leader that he could be next.
It slapped Assad's younger brother, Maher, and 13 other senior officials including four of the president's cousins with an asset freeze and travel ban as part of a package of measures, including an arms embargo.
Britain's action came shortly after Damascus said the Syrian army had started to pull out of the coastal region of Banias where it deployed in force last week to put down anti-regime protests.
Syria's military said it started to pull out of the town of Daraa on May 5, 10 days after sending in tanks and troops during a deadly sweep against regime opponents.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was premature to say whether Bashar al-Assad should quit, while renewing a call on the Syrian leader for speedy reform to end the bloody turmoil in his country.
Erdogan described Assad as a "good friend" and said Ankara had begun applying pressure for reform even before a wave of uprisings began in Arab countries, in an interview aired on the U.S. television channel Bloomberg late Thursday.
"He was late ... I hope he takes those steps quickly and gets integrated with his people because in each of my visits to Syria I see people's love for Bashar al-Assad," Erdogan said through voice-over translation.
Asked whether Assad could survive or should go, Erdogan said: "It's early to make a decision today because the final decision will be made by the people of Syria ... The unity and integrity of Syria should be preserved."
Erdogan said he had "long conversations" with Assad last year on the need to lift emergency rule in Syria, release political prisoners, amend the election system and introduce multi-party politics.
"I said 'if necessary, send us your people and we can train them' ... how does a political party gets organized, how to communicate with the people," he said.
"Then we actually agreed on these points. However taking these steps was delayed and this domino effect (of the Arab uprisings) eventually caught Syria as well," he added.
Turkey, whose ties with Syria have flourished in recent years, has said that it is against foreign intervention in its southern neighbor and that the unrest-hit country should solve its own problems.
Last month Turkish envoys held talks with Assad in Damascus as part of Ankara's efforts to cajole him into reform.
On Friday some 200 people demonstrated after weekly Muslim prayers outside the Syrian consulate in Istanbul calling for Assad to go and condemning killings by his security forces.