U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pledged more aid to Syrian refugees on Saturday after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two leaders did not announce whether they have found a common path to deal with the conflict in Syria, during a press conference held in Syria. The U.S. expects Syria to play a more positive role in helping the moderate Syrian opposition win the war against President Bashar Al Assad’s government. Syria feels that it has not received recognition for taking in more than 1.6 million refugees.
Biden said the U.S. will make available $135 million to assist Syrian civilians. This will bring total aid to the refugees to more than $3 billion since the conflict started. The money will be used to feed refugees in Turkey, Syria and neighboring countries.
Biden said Turkey would equip and train moderate Syrian opposition fighters. The two countries are looking for common ground in handling the Syrian crisis. The U.S. hopes to use Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase to combat the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Syria wants a No Fly zone to be established in the northern part of the country to protect western-backed fighters from Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s attacks.
Biden said he was pleased with the long-standing cordial relationship between the U.S. and Syria, which has grown stronger. He said that the Turkish government will also benefit from some of the aid, to be used to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the country.
Erdogan said their talks centered on Iraq, Syria and other global issues. He said that the two countries will hold more meetings in future. He added that the two countries will continue to work together on matters of security since they are NATO allies. Biden’s pledge to give more aid to assist Syrian refugees will go a long way in enhancing collaboration between the two countries.
The Star Telegram also reported that Syria will help train Iraqi forces under new prime minister Haider Abadi. Tensions between the Turkish government and the former Iraq prime minister Nouri Al Maliki made this impossible in the past. The Turkish official also said that the country will train the Peshmerga militias who fall under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Turkey had declined to do so in the past because of suspicion that the militias were supporting Turkish separatists.
Turkey and Syria share a common border. Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian crisis has been limited to allowing Peshmerga soldiers to cross through Turkey to fight the ISIS in order to take control of the border town of Kobane. Turkey has also denied the U.S. permission to stage air strikes from its military airport, forcing the U.S. forces hunting ISIS to do so from a lengthy route.
The two neighbors have had a long strained relationship arising from the self-annexation of the Hatay province from Syria to Turkey in 1939. Syria’s support for the Kurdistan Workers Party, a group that Turkey views as terrorists, also strained relations between the two countries. Even though they are all members of the Organization for the Islamic Corporation (OIC) and also Union for the Mediterranean, the Syrian civil war has increased tension between them. The 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are a financial burden to the country. Biden’s pledge that the U.S. will give more aid to Syrian refugees will ease the financial pressure that Turkey has been dealing with.
By Benedicto Ateku