Obama lied to us, Trump follows the same path: Erdoğan
Former U.S. President Barack Obama “lied to Turkey” on the issue of Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria’s Manbij region and current U.S. President Donald Trump “follows the same path,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“Trump told us ‘they cannot stay there. They will go to the east of the Euphrates.’ He accepted that Arabs are the real owners of Manbij. But what he said has not come true. Now there is mobilization in Manbij. Manbij will find its real owners,” Erdoğan told reporters while returning to Turkey from an official visit to the Vatican and Italy.
He noted that there are many refugees in Turkey who had to “flee from Manbij but want to return to their homelands.”
Erdoğan’s remarks come ahead of an official visit to Istanbul this weekend from U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also scheduled to visit Ankara next week.
The Turkish president said he told the Pope, the Italian president and the Italian prime minister that international actors should come together to help in the return of 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. “I told them that if they give us financial support we will do our best for them to return to their lands,” he said, adding that Turkey could undertake housing and infrastructure work to rebuild war-torn Syria.
“Unfortunately the promises given to us have not been met. The EU told us that a total of 6 billion euros would be forthcoming for refugees. But so far only 900 million euros have come,” Erdoğan said, stressing that the money has not gone to Turkey’s national budget but to the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) through international organizations.
Touching on the recent Sochi congress and ongoing peace efforts for Syria, the Turkish said he does not think the Geneva process is “successful.”
“Despite all the work being done, nothing concrete has emerged. The Astana process was more fruitful in terms of obtaining results,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made personal efforts to overcome problems in last week’s Sochi congress and a number of “mistakes were corrected,” Erdoğan added, particularly citing the participation of Mihraç Ural.
Ural is leader of an outlawed organization responsible for a deadly terror attack in the southern Turkish province of Hatay in 2013, and his presence in Sochi raised eyebrows in Turkey.
Erdoğan stated that Putin said “he was not aware” of Ural’s presence at the Sochi gathering. “It’s not possible to understand it,” he added, nothing that Turkey had asked Russia for the extradition of Ural.
Questioned about the country of origin of weapons that recently targeted Turkish tanks during the ongoing “Operation Olive Branch,” Erdoğan said examinations are still underway.
Turkey urges Vatican over Ottoman Armenians
Regarding his meetings with Pope Francis on Feb. 5, Erdoğan said he “conveyed Turkey’s sensitivities” regarding the Vatican’s recognition of the mass killing of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
The Pope had described the mass killings as a genocide during a special centenary mass in 2015, in a move that sparked political tension with Ankara.
“I explained to [the Pope] that we are of the opinion that this issue should be left to the domain of historians and should not be used as a political tool,” Erdoğan said.
He also recalled that he and the Pope agreed to stay in touch over developments regarding Jerusalem, following the United States’ unilateral decision to recognize the Holy City as the “undivided” capital of Israel.
Air defense cooperation with Italy
Erdoğan also touched on his meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Noting that Italy has deployed air defense systems to the southern province of Kahramanmaraş under the NATO umbrella to augment Turkey’s capacity against missile attacks from Syria, Erdoğan said Ankara had made a request for the extension of its mandate to September 2018.
“It has been extended. We attach great importance to this,” he said.
NATO countries have been contributing to Turkey’s aerial defense system since the Syrian war erupted in 2011. Along with Italy, Spain also currently has a Patriot battalion deployed on Turkish soil.
Turkey presses Italy over ENI
During the talks in Rome, cooperation between Turkey and Italy through projects to carry Russian and Azeri natural gas to Italy via Turkey were also discussed, Erdoğan said.
“We expressed our sensitivities over ENI. We drew their attention to the ENI’s initiatives in the eastern Mediterranean. Because natural gas [drilling] works in that region pose a threat to Northern Cyprus and to us,” he added.
ENI is a giant Italian energy company that is carrying out works in the Eastern Mediterranean to drill natural gas under a license issued by the Greek Cyprus. Turkey and Northern Cyprus have slammed Greek Cyprus’ moves in the Eastern Mediterranean, on the grounds that all sources within island’s economic zone should belong to both communities.