Riyadh: Hours before he arrived in Saudi Arabia today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria’s president of “mercilessly” killing hundreds of thousands of people and criticized Russia for backing him.
Erdogan was speaking to reporters before departing for Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman for talks focused on the Syrian civil war and energy cooperation.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are strong backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran.
Erdogan said his government and Saudi Arabia are working “in solidarity and consultation” to find a political solution for Syria, as both countries push for an agreement that would remove Assad from power.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Erdogan’s talks with Salman were attended by other senior Saudi royals and officials, including the kingdom’s crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs and information. Erdogan’s delegation to Saudi Arabia includes the country’s ministers of economy, energy and foreign affairs.
The two sides were expected to discuss energy cooperation as Ankara works to diversify its supplies following a rift with Moscow over the downing of a Russian plane.
The Saudi Press Agency confirmed the two leaders discussed the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well developments in war-torn Libya and Yemen, where Saudi forces are battling Shiite rebels.
In comments apparently directed at Russia’s military intervention in Syria, Erdogan said: “You cannot go anywhere by supporting a regime that has mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people with conventional and chemical weapons.” Russia began airstrikes in Syria on September 30, saying it wanted to support the Syrian government and defeat Islamic State militants and other extremists.
But many of the strikes have hit Western-backed rebel groups in areas where IS is not present, and Syrian activists say the Russian strikes have killed civilians.
The UN says at least 250,000 people have been killed in the nearly five-year Syrian conflict, and some 12 million people displaced, triggering a massive refugee crisis.
What began in 2011 as mainly peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring eventually spiraled into an armed conflict pitting rebels against the military, drawing in global powers as well as extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.