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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 13:10 GMT
Warm welcome for Assad's Turkey trip
President Bashar al-Assad
Assad is the first Syrian president to visit Turkey

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad begins his visit to Turkey - the first by a Syrian president since the country's independence in the 1940s - the press in Ankara is hoping for a thaw in the hitherto chilly relations.

The new order in Iraq, fears of a resurgent Kurdish nationalism and regional instability are forcing the two regional powers to put old rivalries behind, Turkish papers say.

And in Syria, a government daily says the two countries could be partners not only in regional security issues, but also in forging closer ties with the European Union.

That is a marked improvement on the tensions of five years ago, when Syria and Turkey appeared to be on the verge of war after Ankara accused Damascus of harbouring a Kurdish rebel leader.

Shared concerns

"The visit carries a vital importance for Turkey at a critical time," says Turkey's Cumhuriyet.

The daily argues that the two countries, both with sizeable Kurdish populations, should present a united front to Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

"The new establishment in Iraq forces Turkey and Syria to strive for a much closer relationship against the separatist and expansionist Barzani and Talabani, who are a common threat to both countries," the daily says.

There is no Saddam Hussein any longer. The US is now Syria's neighbour in Iraq... Gaddafi has surrendered. All of this makes it impossible for Damascus to continue as if nothing happened.
Milliyet, Turkey

"From now on, the already improved relations could develop into a much closer and serious co-operation."

Another Turkish daily, Yeni Safak, also focuses on common security fears.

"After the Iraqi occupation, the US-British-Israeli plans vis-a-vis the region make not only Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iran worried," the paper believes.

"Turkey is also getting worried," it says, adding that "the uncertainty about the future of Iraq has especially shaken Ankara's trust in the US."

"The visit is more regional than bilateral," the daily says, stressing that "it shows the nature of Turkey's security concerns."

The centrist Turkish daily Milliyet notes that the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's attempts to come in from the cold have left Damascus somewhat isolated.

"There is no Saddam Hussein any longer. The US is now Syria's neighbour in Iraq. Israel is free of Saddam's shadow," the daily states.

"And, by the way, Gaddafi has surrendered! All of this makes it impossible for Damascus to continue as if nothing has happened."

We will face a leader who is very different from the other Middle Eastern chiefs
Posta, Turkey

A turnaround in relations between Turkey and Syria could be a breakthrough for the entire region, Milliyet goes on to say.

"The visit is very important," the daily says, "in terms of the evolution of nationalist feelings in the Middle East from rawness to maturity."

"The Turkey-Syria friendship can be and should be a model for a solution of all problems in the Middle East."

'Historic and optimistic'

The Turkish tabloid Posta says that, although there are powerful forces in both countries that oppose any improvement in relations, the new Syrian leader could prove a powerful force for change.

"For the first time, a Syrian president is coming to Turkey today. We will face a leader who is very different from the other Middle Eastern chiefs," the paper says.

"President Bashar al-Assad is determined, but the ones around him are still from his father's team."

"Like here," it adds, "there are people in Syria who do not want anything to change and who want tensions with Turkey to continue."

"That is why Al-Assad needs support from Ankara," the tabloid explains.

And in Syria, the pro-government daily Tishrin hails the visit as "historic and optimistic".

"President Bashar al-Assad's visit comes at a sensitive and complex time when the two countries are directly concerned with the security and stability of the region," the paper says.

"Syria and Turkey are also striving for partnership with the EU countries... They might face challenges and problems which will require an exchange of views at all levels."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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