GCC and Turkey stand united on Syria

Nations give their 'unequivocal' support to Arab League at meeting in Istanbul, hoping Syria's government will accept League's recent peace plan.

From left, Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Sheik Khalid bin AhmedI bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu  and United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan seenduring a group photo during  the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign ministers meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday,  Jan. 28, 2012 Turkey on Saturday expressed hope that the Arab League observers can help stop the violence in Syria which spiked over the past week. Foreign ministers of six Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, are meeting in Istanbul to explore new ways of cooperation with Turkey amid Iranian threats to immediately halt oil exports to Europe.(AP Photo) *** Local Caption ***  Turkey Gulf Meeting.JPEG-00be6.jpg
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ISTANBUL // Turkey and the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council yesterday urged the government in Syria to accept a plan by the Arab League that includes a demand for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to step aside.

"As Turkey and as Gulf Cooperation Council, we unequivocally support the efforts by the Arab League on Syria," Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters after meeting foreign ministers from the six countries of the GCC in Istanbul. He said the meeting's participants hoped that the Syrian government would accept the Arab League's recent peace plan, stop the violence against protesters and embark on "a reform process that is in line with the demands of the people".

According to the United Nations, more than 5,400 people have been killed in 10 months of violence in Syria, where Mr Al Assad's security forces have been trying to crush a protest movement against his government. Damascus says it is battling militants and has rejected an Arab League proposal that Mr Al Assad hand over power within two months, saying the request impinges on its sovereignty. The League said yesterday it was suspending its observer mission in Syria because of a recent increase of violence.

In a joint statement issued after the one-day meeting, Turkey and the GCC said the lack of progress to solve the crisis in Syrian with the help of the Arab League peace plan was "mostly due to the intransigent attitude displayed by the Syrian administration". The meeting called on Syria "to fulfill without delay all of its commitments and obligations under the Arab League peace initiative".

The meeting, the fourth of its kind since the start of the formalised dialogue between Turkey and the GCC in 2008, came shortly after the GCC decided to pull its monitors from Syria and called on the United Nations Security Council to take "all needed measures" to support the Arab plan.

Abdullatif Al Zayani, the GCC general secretary, who also attended the Istanbul meeting, is scheduled to travel to Brussels to meet Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato general secretary, tomorrow and the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday.

Turkey, the only Muslim Nato member, formally embraced the Arab plan for Syria on January 24, declaring that "the situation in Syria is unsustainable" and supporting "a gradual political transition process in the country". A statement released by the foreign ministry in Ankara late on Friday called on "all the relevant actors of the international community, the United Nations Security Council in particular, to take the necessary steps resolutely and urgently".

The Security Council has been deadlocked for months on Syria. Russia and China vetoed a previous European resolution in October, accusing the West of seeking regime change. The Istanbul meeting was held amid new efforts by Arab and European nations to get the UN to do something about Syria.

Representatives of the Syrian opposition in exile yesterday used a news conference in Istanbul to issue a call to Syrians around the world to gather outside Syrian and Russian embassies as well as UN institutions for demonstrations today. They also said they would ask the Security Council for protection, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mr Davutoglu praised the cooperation between his country and the Gulf states. "There are big challenges ahead, but there is also a big potential," he said about the cooperation between Turkey and the GCC, which consists of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Today, Mr Davutoglu will accompany Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, on a four-day state visit to the UAE.

It will be the first state visit of a Turkish president to the UAE for 15 years, according to a statement from Mr Gul's office.