Turkey PM Erdogan confirms June visit to Gaza, West Bank
In joint White House press conference, President Obama cites need for further evidence before making Syria decision; Erdogan: Turkey in 'full consensus' with U.S. on need to end Syria bloodshed.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday that he plans to travel to the Gaza Strip in June, for a trip that will also include a visit to the West Bank.
Erdogan made the announcement at a press conference at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Erdogan has presented similar plans in the past, but these have been delayed under pressure of the Palestinian Authority, who feared being overshadowed by Hamas.
Speaking on the crisis in Turkey's neighboring Syria at Thursday's press conference, Obama said that Erdogan reserves the right to resort to a range of diplomatic and military options to deal with the Assad regime - if he gets conclusive proof that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the country's civil war.
Erdogan said Turkey was in "full consensus" with the U.S. on the need to end the bloodshed in Syria and for a political transition to a government without Assad.
At the press conference, Obama said there was evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria but that it is important to get "more specific information" to confirm this before deciding how to respond.
Erdogan had been expected to push Obama, at least in private, for more assertive action on Syria during a visit to Washington this week, days after car bombs tore through a Turkish border town in the deadliest spillover of violence yet.
But the two leaders showed no sign of friction in their appearance in the White House Rose Garden and sought to project a united front on Syria.
Obama - who has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels or become enmeshed militarily in the two-year-old conflict - expressed hope that the United States and Russia would succeed in arranging a peace conference that would produce results.
But Obama, who had insisted chemical weapons use would be a "game changer," made clear, however, that Washington was keeping all options on the table, though he did not provide specifics.
"There are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in," he told reporters. "And I preserve the options of taking additional steps, both diplomatic and military, because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term as well as our allies and friends and neighbors."