Istanbul: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived on Saturday in Istanbul for talks on the conflict in Syria with Turkish leaders after Washington slapped fresh sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's regime and its allies.

Clinton flew in from Benin after wrapping up a marathon 11-day, nine-nation Africa tour. The secretary of state will meet President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, with a press conference by Clinton and Davutoglu scheduled for 1030 GMT.

Meetings are also expected with Syrian opposition members and refugees. Clinton will have "lengthy and in-depth conversation" with Turkey's leaders to discuss a three-pronged strategy, a US official said.

The first aspect is "how we judge the effectiveness of what we are doing in terms of supporting the opposition," the official said, adding that pressure and isolation of the regime was part of the strategy.

The United Nations Security Council is divided on Syria with Russia and China having vetoed three draft resolutions. "So after that... we made clear that we were shifting from New York to a focus on supporting the opposition in its efforts to hasten the day that Assad falls and to begin in earnest planning for the day after Assad falls," the State Department official said.

Clinton is expected to discuss with Turkey's leaders ways to effectively enforce sanctions against Damascus. Turkey, once a close ally of Syria, has become a vocal opponent of the regime since it launched a brutal crackdown on dissent in March last year.

Relations hit an all-time low after a Turkish fighter jet was shot down by Syrian fire in June, killing its two-man crew and leading Ankara to brand Damascus a "hostile" opponent.

In November, the Turkish government joined Arab League sanctions, freezing Syrian government financial assets, imposing a travel ban on senior Syrian officials and cutting off transactions with the country's central bank.

The second part of the strategy, according to the US official, would be to extend humanitarian assistance to Turkey as it copes with an influx of refugees from Syria. In Istanbul, Clinton is expected to announce an additional USD 5.5 million in aid for those fleeing fighting that monitoring groups say has now claimed over 21,000 lives.

Turkey is currently home to more than 50,000 refugees living in camps along the Syrian border.

(Agencies)


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