JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Turkey will meet to discuss Syria on Friday, a Saudi official said on Tuesday, in a mark of accelerating diplomacy on a crisis in which both regional powers have condemned President Bashar al-Assad.
“The Syrian issue is top of the agenda,” the official told Reuters in confirming that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would hold talks with King Abdullah in Riyadh at the end of the week. A Turkish newspaper said Erdogan would fly there directly on Thursday on his way home from an official visit to China.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter has led Arab efforts to isolate Assad over the violent repression of an uprising that the United Nations says has killed 9,000 people.
Turkey, a former friend to the Syrian president, has been angered by a flood of refugees fleeing the Syrian army and by shooting across its border on Monday that wounded five people.
Both predominantly Sunni Muslim in religion, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both sympathetic to Syria’s Sunni majority, which complains of oppression at the hands of Assad, a member of the Alawite sect and a long-time ally of Shi’ite Iran.
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, citing officials in Ankara, said Erdogan would tell the Saudi king that Arab countries must take the lead in coordinated international measures against the Syrian government, which faces a deadline this week to comply with an internationally brokered ceasefire.
The newspaper said Erdogan might then travel on to Moscow to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Like China, Russia has resisted international efforts to pressurize Assad into acceding to opposition demands, though it has supported the ceasefire.
Saudi Arabia condemned what it described as Syria’s failure to comply with the peace plan negotiated by the United Nations and Arab League’s envoy, Kofi Annan, by not pulling its forces out of cities on Tuesday:
“The non-compliance with the plan … reveals the inflexibility of the Syrian regime and its disregard for commitments to Arab and international bodies,” Information Minister Abdulaziz Khoja was quoted as saying by al-Madina newspaper.