World Bulletin / News Desk
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had surprise talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday as the two neighbors find themselves increasingly at odds over the civil war in Syria.
The two leaders agreed that contacts among countries in the region should be intensified in order to end the bloodshed in Syria, the Anatolia news agency said of the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of a summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in Baku.
The meeting comes on the heels of escalating border tensions between Turkey and Syria.
Turkey has shelled Syrian targets after a mortar fired from Syria killed five civilians in a border town early this month. In moves that raised fears of a war that could drag in other regional countries and NATO, Turkey also reinforced its military units along the border, sending artillery weapons and deploying more fighter jets to an air base close to the border, and Parliament passed a motion allowing Turkey to send, if need be, Turkish troops into Syria. Necdet Özel, Chief of General Staff, also warned Syria, in a statement on Wednesday that Turkey would retaliate in a more forceful way should shelling by the Syrian side keep landing inside Turkish territory. In addition, Turkey has reinforced its border.
Erdoğan defended Turkey's retaliatory measures in the wake of the attack in the town of Akçakale, and Ahmadinejad concurred. “Turkey is justified in its reaction,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying during the meeting by the private Cihan news agency. The Iranian leader also extended condolences for the deaths of the Turkish civilians.
Syria, which said an investigation was under way to track the source of the mortar bomb, has expressed regret for the deaths and extended condolences.
The exchange of fire on the border has raised concerns both in Turkey and elsewhere. The EU ministers gathering for a meeting on Monday and expressed concern over the spillover of the Syrian crisis to Turkey and called on all sides to prevent any escalation of conflict between Damascus and Ankara.
During their meeting, Erdoğan and Ahmadinejad exchanged views on the joint UN and Arab League special envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi's talks on the Syrian issue.
Also high on the agenda of the meeting were Iran's nuclear program and the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) -- the Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging a separatist campaign against Turkey for the past three decades.
Iran also agreed that the Turkish Cypriots be given an observer status at ECO, a Turkish demand voiced by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a ministerial meeting on Monday.