Syrian PM urges regional stand against US

ANKARA (AFP)–On the eve of his visit to Ankara–Syrian Prime Minister Mustapha Miro said that regional countries such as Turkey–Iran and Syria should strengthen their ties in order to resist US efforts to reshape the Middle East.

The meeting takes place amid US warnings to Turkey–a longstanding Muslim ally and NATO partner–not to contradict Washington’s policy toward its southern neighbor Syria.

Speaking from Damascus–Miro told the Turkish daily Sabah–"The whole world knows about America’s policy to establish a new order in the Middle East. Therefore I think Turkey–Syria and Iran as well as other countries need to act unified because if we act alone it becomes easier to do what has been done to Iraq."

According to Miro–the region’s common desire is for the American occupation of Iraq to end quickly–and for the US to leave the region as soon as possible. Turkey’s relations with both Syria and Iran–often tense in the past–have warmed in the wake of the US-led war in Iraq.

The three neighbors share the concern that any move towards self-rule by the Kurds in northern Iraq could spark unrest among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities.

But the United States has warned Turkey that it should limit–and coordinate with Washington–its cooperation with Syria and Iran.

"I think anything that Turkey does with Syria or does with Iran’should fit into an overall policy with us–of getting those countries to change their bad behavior," US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview with Turkish television in May.

In remarks to another Turkish newspaper–however–Miro said the recent improvement in Turkish-Syrian ties was not against US interests.

"The objective of Turkish-Syrian relations is not to challenge the United States… These are relations between neighbors," he told Hurriyet.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul visited Washington last week seeking to improve relations with the US–which stand at an all-time low following Ankara’s failure to back the war in Iraq and persisting tensions over Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the past–Turkey has accused Syria of supporting "terrorists," referring to Turkish Kurdish rebels.

The two neighbors came to the brink of war in 1998 when Turkey threatened military action if Syria continued to shelter Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Tension eased in October 1998 when Ocalan left Damascus–his long-time safe haven–and Syria pledged to stop harboring the rebels–allowing a significant improvement in both political and economic relations.

Miro told Hurriyet that he hoped increased cooperation would allow the two neighbors to also resolve differences over the sharing of the waters of the Euphrates River and some territorial disputes.

Turkish and Syrian officials held talks on increasing bilateral trade and economic cooperation Monday–ahead of Miro’s arrival.

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