G20 summit to cast spotlight on Syria conflict, migration crisis

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The G20 summit is expected to focus on the war in Syria, a surge in migration and the scourge of terrorism – unusual topics for what is supposed to be an economic forum.

This year’s summit of the world’s 20 largest economies will take place in Turkey amid heightened efforts to end Syria’s bloody conflict while Europe tries to get a handle on a migration surge triggered by the war. Ankara is key to resolving both issues.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will push at the Group of 20 summit Sunday and Monday in the resort city of Antalya for a joint pledge to curb the migration flows and support countries hosting migrants, government sources said. Turkey plays an important role as both a host of migrants and a key transit route to Europe.

Given the urgency of the issue, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put migration on the agenda for Sunday’s informal dinner alongside Syria’s crisis and the related issue of terrorism – an unusual move for a primarily economic forum.

“This will be a difficult discussion,” an EU source said on the condition of anonymity. “There are some who say that migration is not an issue that the G20 should discuss.”

Brussels is seeking commitments from the G20 to increase funding for those countries taking in refugees and the aid agencies involved as well as pledges to directly resettle more people from the Middle East – requests that could fall on deaf ears.

EU expectations for the summit – which comes days after the bloc’s leaders met African counterparts to discuss migration flows from that continent – are modest.

“I wouldn’t expect any spectacular commitments,” the source said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to hold talks with Erdogan about plans to enlist Turkey’s help on the migration crisis. Ankara is requesting financial aid and accelerated EU accession talks in return.

However, the deal has come under criticism from those who accuse the EU of papering over democratic shortfalls in Turkey, such as a clampdown on opposition media ahead of elections this month, in which Erdogan’s ruling party won a resounding victory.

Discussions on Syria are also likely to be fraught. Turkey is part of a US-led air campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, but while Washington is aligned in this cause with Kurdish fighters, Ankara suspects them of having links to Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, against which it is waging a domestic campaign.

US President Barack Obama will also hold talks on the sidelines with the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy on efforts against Islamic State as well as the conflict in Ukraine.

Moscow has also conducted what it calls anti-terrorist airstrikes in Syria but has been accused by Western governments of targeting rebel groups seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia.

Obama is not scheduled to hold formal talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin although the White House would not rule out casual conversations between the leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

The renewed diplomatic push over Syria has put Russia back into the limelight after a marginalized Putin left last year’s G20 summit early during the height of the Ukraine crisis, analysts said.

“What a difference a year makes,” said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “Mr Putin will be far from marginalized.”

But discussions on Syria, where an estimated 250,000 people have died since the civil war began in 2011, are unlikely to produce a breakthrough with the diplomatic legwork taking place Friday in Vienna, where key regional and global players will hold their second meeting in as many weeks.

The G20 summit takes place under heightened security amid political tensions in Turkey, which last month suffered its deadliest ever terrorist attack when two suicide bombers attacked a rally in Ankara.

The 13,000 summit attendees will almost be matched by 12,000 security guards while the seaside resort is barricaded off to the public.

The G20 consists of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the EU.

The summit will also focus on promoting economic growth and is viewed as a stepping stone towards global climate change talks in Paris next month.

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