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01:25, 27 June 2017 Tuesday
Update: 11:52, 30 June 2012 Saturday

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U.S. downplays Turkish troop moves near Syrian border
U.S. downplays Turkish troop moves near Syrian border

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "I wouldn't read that as provocative in any way."

World Bulletin/News Desk

U.S. defense chiefs on Friday downplayed Turkey's deployment of troops and military vehicles toward its border with Syria, saying the movements didn't appear aimed at escalating tensions with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A Turkish official on Thursday described the movement as a precaution after Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane a week ago.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that Turkey has maintained troops along the border.

"And I wouldn't read too much into the movements that have been in the press," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "I wouldn't read that as provocative in any way."

Dempsey, who recently spoke with his Turkish counterpart, General Necdet Ozel, added: "You'd probably have to ask the Turks. I've asked them and they are not seeking to be provocative."

Commenting on his conversation with Ozel, Dempsey said: "He's taking a very measured approach to the incident. So he and I are staying in contact."

Turkish commanders on Friday inspected missile batteries deployed in the border region, seen as a graphic warning to Assad after last Friday's shoot-down of the Turkish plane.

"A nation loses in this case two airmen to a hostile act, it will of course increase the risk of escalation. But [...] the internal movement of their ground forces, -- I wouldn't read that as provocative in any way. [...] I've asked them, and they are not seeking to be provocative," Dempsey told reporters in a press conference.

US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said the United States continued to be concerned about developments in Syria.

"We are in discussions. Turkey is one of our allies in that region. We continue to be in close discussions with them with regards to how we best approach the situation in Syria. They have maintained troops, as I understand it, along the border. And I wouldn't read too much into the movements that have been in the press," Panetta said.

Turkey has begun moving troops and armored units to the border with Syria just days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was changing rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces.

"Any Syrian military element approaching the Turkish border from Syria will be considered as a military threat and dealt with accordingly," Erdogan has said.

The unarmed Turkish plane was shot down by Syria while on a training and test mission after unintentionally strayed into Syrian airspace but it was quickly warned by Turkish authorities to leave.

The incident has drawn widespread condemnation amid the continuing violence in Syria.

Turkey said the Syrian act constituted a violation of international law and that Ankara would take "every necessary measure."



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Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland
Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.