Ankara denies claim Sarkozy not invited to Syria summit

Ankara denies claim Sarkozy not invited to Syria summit
Turkish diplomatic sources have denied a report stating that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not be invited to an international summit set to convene in İstanbul to discuss Syria, Today's Zaman reported.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, a Foreign Ministry official said a story that appeared in Monday's edition of the Sabah daily was not entirely correct. "The conference in Turkey, as the one organized in Tunisia on Feb. 24, is to be attended by the country's foreign ministries, so neither Sarkozy nor the leaders of any other government will participate," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He emphasized that Turkey has no animosity towards the French president when it comes to the conflict in Syria.

The report in Sabah claimed that Sarkozy will be shunned from attending the conference in İstanbul, underscoring Turkish protests against the French leader for his support of efforts to criminalize the denial of "Armenian genocide" claims, Sabah said.

Turkey is preparing to host the second gathering of the "Friends of Syria" group, which first met in Tunisia in late February. Participants agreed at that meeting that the second gathering will take place in İstanbul.

Turkish organizers of the gathering plan to invite the foreign ministers from about 70 countries.

Both houses of the French Parliament passed a bill criminalizing the denial of claims that Armenians were subjected to "genocide" at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Sarkozy supported and reportedly even pressured parliamentarians to pass the bill, angering Turkey, which sees the bill as an attempt by Sarkozy to secure support from French-Armenians in the upcoming presidential election.

The bill was annulled by France's Constitutional Council, which said it ran contrary to the principles of freedom of expression enshrined in France's founding documents. Sarkozy expressed disappointment at the Constitutional Council decision and asked the government to prepare a new draft taking into account the decision of the top constitutional body.

The second Friends of Syria meeting is now expected to take place later this month, from March 20-26 given Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's scheduled foreign visits. Erdoğan will visit Germany on March 17, attend ceremonies commemorating the anniversary of World War I-era events in Çanakkale on March 18 and will visit South Korea from March 26-27.

Turkey plans to invite Russia and China, two permanent members of the UN Security Council who vetoed a Security Council resolution against Syria and shunned the Tunisia gathering of the Friends of Syria. Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, as well as representatives of the Syrian opposition attended the first meeting of the Friends of Syria in Tunisia.

Sabah said the Syrian National Council (SNC), representing the political wing of the Syrian opposition, is expected to be recognized as the "sole legitimate representative" of Syria during the İstanbul gathering. The meeting is also expected to produce crucial decisions regarding military aid to the Syrian opposition. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu met with representatives of the SNC last week, discussing preparations for the İstanbul gathering of the Friends of Syria.

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