FM Davutoglu's surprise damascus talks yield progress in Iraq govt crisis
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday appeared optimistic after a series of surprise talks with Iraqi leaders and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, saying there were "positive developments" for Iraq's troubled government formation process. Davutoglu on Monday paid a previously unannounced visit to the Syrian capital for what turned out to be a hectic round of talks with Assad, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and, most surprisingly, two Iraqi political leaders: former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose al-Iraqiya coalition won the country's latest election with a narrow margin of two seats, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Turkey says it maintains dialogue with all Iraqi groups but that the new Iraqi government should be broad-based, meaning the Sunnis, who have no representation in Maliki's coalition, should also be represented in the government. Davutoglu's talks also focused on a crisis in Turkey's ties with Israel and efforts to unite rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. Sources close to Monday's meetings said the talks with Mashaal, who lives in exile in Syria, reviewed efforts for reconciliation between the Palestinian groups and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The foreign minister also had both three-way and separate talks with Assad and Hariri, discussing plans to create a free trade zone among Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan on the basis of an agreement in June. Foreign ministers of the four countries agreed during talks in Istanbul that the zone will be based on "existing bilateral agreements and practices on free trade and visa exemption" between the parties and will be open to the participation of other countries as well. On Iraq, Davutoglu and Assad agreed that a government that can unite Iraqis and bring stability to the country must be established as soon as possible. They also rejected foreign intervention, saying solutions to the problems of the region should come from within the region, not without.