The Turkish Summit Without Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will not be invited to an international summit set to convene in Istanbul to discuss Syria, underscoring Turkish protests against the French leader for his support to efforts to criminalize rejection of Armenian claims, a Turkish news report said on Monday.

Turkey is preparing to host the second gathering of the “Friends of Syria” group, which first met in Tunisia in late February. Participants agreed at that meeting that the second gathering will take place in Istanbul.

Turkish organizers of the gathering plan to invite both heads of state and governments and foreign ministers of about 70 countries. France, however, will receive an invitation only for the foreign minister.

Both houses of the French parliament passed a bill criminalizing rejection of claims that Armenians were subject to genocide during the First World War years. Sarkozy supported and reportedly even pressured parliamentarians to pass the bill, angering Turkey, which sees the bill as an attempt on the part of Sarkozy to secure support from French Armenians in the upcoming presidential election.

The bill was annulled by France’s Constitutional Council, which said it was contradictory to the principles of freedom of expression enshrined in France’s founding documents.

Sarkozy expressed disappointment at the Constitutional Council decision and asked the government to prepare a new draft taking into account the decision of the top constitutional body.

The second Friends of Syria meeting is now expected to take place later this month, between March 20-26, given Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s schedule of foreign visits, daily Sabah reported. Erdoğan will visit Germany on March 17, attend ceremonies on the anniversary of a First World War history in Çanakkale on March 18, and will visit South Korea on March 26-27.

Turkey plans to invite Russia and China, two permanent members of the UN Security Council who vetoed a Security Council resolution against Syria and shunned the Tunisia gathering of the Friends of Syria.

Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, as well as representatives of the Syrian opposition attended the first meeting of the Friends of Syria in Tunisia.

Sabah said the Syrian National Council, representing the political wing of the Syrian opposition, is expected to be recognized as the “sole legitimate representative” of Syria during the Istanbul gathering. The meeting is also expected to produce crucial decisions regarding military aid to the Syrian opposition.

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu met with representatives of the Syrian National Council last week, discussing preparations for the Istanbul gathering of Friends of Syria.