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Syria's Assad meets Erdogan for peace talks

ANKARA (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashir al-Assad held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a Turkish beach resort on Tuesday to discuss regional peace efforts, a government source said.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad share a laugh during al-Assad's arrival at Bodrum Airport in the southwestern Turkish resort of Bodrum August 5, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Assad’s visit to Bodrum on the Aegean coast comes a week after Israel and Syria completed a fourth round of Turkish-mediated indirect talks in Istanbul without succeeding in moving on to face-to-face negotiations.

“Erdogan invited him and they have issues to discuss, such as peace talks,” a government source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The two leaders met for several hours.

The next round of indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks is expected in mid-August.

Turkish officials fear domestic political issues in Israel, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is due to step down shortly, will make it more difficult to move to direct talks.

Public statements also suggest the two sides remain divided on core issues, such as Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights and Syria’s ties to Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Erdogan welcomed Assad and his wife at Bodrum airport before taking them to a luxury hotel for lunch, ahead of a private meeting between the two leaders.

Assad and Erdogan have met frequently and are known to have a friendly relationship. Trade ties have also grown between the two neighbors.

“Syria wants its presence to be felt in the region and its relations with Turkey seem to be one of the ways to do that. I don’t think a serious result will come out of this meeting but it shows that the process continues at high level,” Semih Idiz of the liberal Milliyet newspaper told a Turkish news program.

Turkey’s leading newspaper Hurriyet said the Iranian nuclear program was also on the agenda.

Next week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Istanbul for talks with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

Gul and Erdogan have over the past few years sought to boost Turkey’s role as a regional problem solver in the Middle East.

Reporting by Paul de Bendern; editing by Robert Hart