US, Turkey project unity in call for Assad to step aside

Downplay split over level of aid to Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON — President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan projected a united front Thursday on Syria, keeping stark differences about how much the United States should intervene behind closed doors as they looked to Russia and the global community to close ranks behind efforts to oust Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.

Outside the White House, the two leaders offered no hints about new actions either country would take, but they pledged to keep intensifying pressure on Assad. After a meeting focused on Syria, Erdogan sidestepped a question about what he wants Obama to do, though he has publicly urged the United States to take further steps to hasten Assad’s departure. And Obama emphasized that if and when the United States takes action, it won’t be alone.

‘‘I don’t think anybody in the region, including the prime minister, would think that US unilateral actions in and of themselves would bring about a better outcome inside of Syria,’’ Obama said.


Erdogan, speaking in Turkish, called attention to where the United States and Turkey have spoken with one voice.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

‘‘Our views do overlap,’’ he said. ‘‘We will continue to explore what we can do together.’’

Harmony in the White House Rose Garden obscured the intense debates both leaders are confronting at home and abroad about how to end a conflict that started in 2011 and escalated to claim more than 70,000 lives. Instead, Obama and Erdogan professed both impatience and optimism, hoping that unanimity among allies may compel other players — namely Russia — to get in line.

‘‘What we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition,’’ Obama said. ‘‘I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results.’’

Mindful that support from Russia, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally, is a key factor allowing Assad to cling to power, the Obama administration has sought to project optimism concerning a joint US-Russian push to launch talks between the regime and the opposition. But those hopes have been somewhat dampened by word that Russia was planning to sell an advanced air defense system to Syria that could complicate further military intervention and by Russia’s demand that US nemesis Iran be included in the talks.


The State Department wouldn’t address the Iran demand Thursday but said the US, Russia, and others are still working to get talks underway. Next week, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with foreign ministers representing America’s Arab and European allies in Jordan, while Syria’s opposition will discuss its plans at a meeting in Istanbul.

‘‘The goal here,’’ State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, ‘‘is to get both sides back to the table to work toward a path toward a political transition.’’

The White House is considering arming rebel forces despite concerns about weapons falling into the wrong hands.