BERLIN – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday it is up to the U.N. Security Council to decide whether a no-fly zone should be imposed on Syria or safe areas created for people fleeing the civil war.
His comments during a visit to Germany appeared more moderate than previous calls from Turkey for international action to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
In August, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried but failed to persuade the Security Council to set up a safe haven inside Syria to protect thousands of people fleeing the bloody conflict between rebel groups and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Asked whether 19 months into the conflict the time has come to create safe havens for Syrian civilians or a no-fly zone — as was imposed on Moammar Gadhafi's Libya and Saddam Hussein's Iraq — Erdogan refrained from calling for such a step.
"This subject is something for the U.N. Security Council to decide," he said. "If the U.N. hasn't made this decision, we have no authority, no right to declare such a zone in northern Syria."
The experience of imposing a no-fly zone over Iraq had shown it came at a high price, he added.
Speaking after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Erdogan indicated that Turkey wants greater diplomatic support from Germany in dealing with Russia and China on Syria.
Moscow and Beijing — both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — have consistently blocked resolutions that would put pressure on the Assad regime.
Russia's foreign minister warned on Wednesday that the violence in Syria could spread terrorism throughout the Middle East, and that ousting Assad's government would lead to more bloodshed.
Sergey Lavrov said after talks in Paris that Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, doesn't want "to allow the collapse of the country" or for Syria's civil war "to allow the spread of terrorism in this region."
While France and some other world powers are pushing for Assad to leave power, Lavrov told reporters that any government change would only fuel more violence.
In Berlin, Erdogan said Turkey has received some 105,000 Syrian refugees since March 2011, and millions more are displaced within Syria, calling the conflict a "catastrophe."
Merkel praised Ankara's efforts for the refugees, saying they represent "a very real burden for Turkey" and that Germany is prepared to provide further humanitarian assistance.
She also reiterated NATO's backing for Turkey, a member of the alliance, and lauded the country's "sober" response to cross-border incidents.
Turkey reinforced its border with anti-aircraft missiles after Syrian forces brought down a Turkish jet on June 22 and threatened to target any military "elements" approaching from Syria.
More recently, Ankara returned fire several times after mortars were fired into its territory from Syria.
Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.