Syria's New Leader to Visit Turkey on First Foreign Tour

The first foreign visit of Syria's new leader Bashar al-Assad will be paid to Turkey, which will turn a new page in Turco-Syrian relations, Turkish Daily News quoted Syrian charge d'affaires in Ankara Said al-Bunni as saying on Thursday.

Damascus is expecting an official invitation from Ankara for the visit.

Bashar, son of late President Hafez al-Assad who died of heart attack last month at age 69, is the hand-picked heir of his father. He is poised to be elected Syrian president in the public vote slated for July 10.

The diplomat said the young Syrian leader recently expressed his decision to pay his first official visit to Ankara in response to Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's presence at his father's funeral.

During his trip, the Turkish president vowed to work with Syria's new leader to iron out problems in bilateral relations.

The Syrian trip was Sezer's first foreign visit since he took office on May 16. He was also the first Turkish president to visit Damascus since 1990, when the late President Turgut Ozal visited Syria on a regional tour following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Analysts said that both countries were prepared to improve bilateral relations to strengthen economic cooperations and domestic developments.

The Syrian diplomat said that following Bashar's visit, a number of Syrian ministers are also expected to visit Ankara, indicating that a new stage of relations between the two neighbors is on the horizon.

Turkey and Syria have long been at odds over a series of issues, ranging from Damascus' support for Kurdish separatist rebels fighting the Ankara government to the sharing of water resources. Tensions peaked in 1998 after Turkey threatened a military offensive if Syria continued to support Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and shelter the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan.

The crisis lasted several weeks until Egyptian and Iranian mediators oversaw an accord signed between them in the southern Turkish town of Adana.

Damascus was worried about the increasing strategic partnership between Turkey and Israel, which is still occupying the Golan Heights it seized from Syria in 1967.

Sharing the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris, which originate in Turkey and flow down to Syria and Iraq, is another major point of contention between Turkey and drought-stricken Syria.

Damascus claims Turkey's construction of dams on the rivers has reduced the water flow to Syria, while Turkey says it releases to Syria more than the 500 cubic meters of water per second as agreed in a 1987 bilateral protocol.

People's Daily Online ---