Turkey cannot be left out of Syria plans: Erdoğan
Fikret Bila - WASHINGTON
The United States will be beating a path to Turkey’s door regarding upcoming moves in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said after a meeting with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in Washington on May 16, noting that Turkey cannot be excluded from the Syrian table.
“Turkey cannot be excluded as a decision-maker,” Erdoğan told journalists at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.
“We are determined to carry bilateral relations to a further point and strengthening economic ties,” Erdoğan also said following his nearly three-hour meeting and lunch with Trump.
“I believe that they will also knock on our door on the Syria issue,” he said.
Coalition forces have already surrounded Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, the president noted.
“Let’s see what will happen. But Turkey will be in the field in the region – both in Iraq and Syria,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey has repeatedly declared that it would like to take part in an operation on Raqqa, but it also strongly opposes any involvement by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it views as a terrorist group.
The issue will be on the agenda at a NATO summit in Brussels on May 24 and 25, Erdoğan said.
The anti-terrorism fight will also be on the agenda at the summit.
Turkey has called on its NATO ally, the U.S., as well as Russia, to cut contact with the YPG due to its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but the two major world powers have declared that they will continue working with the group in Syria.
“The U.S. has already made up its mind on Raqqa. And this is what we tell them: We do don’t embrace such an attitude under the current circumstances; we absolutely cannot act with you. We think cooperating with a terror group for Raqqa is not healthy,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey openly told the U.S. that it will retaliate against any possible attacks from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its armed wing YPG within the rules of engagement, Erdoğan said, recalling that Turkey has already hit the group in Syria’s al-Rai, Jarablus and al-Bab within the scope of the Euphrates Shield operation.
Erdoğan also questioned who would take over Raqqa once it is cleaned of ISIL, as the YPG has continued to hold Manbij, a smaller Syrian town taken from the jihadist group.
“As Turkey we will do what is necessary in the struggle against terrorism within the field of our responsibility. We will not let terror groups breathe within or outside our borders. We will not permit a belt [of terrorism],” he said.
The extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based preacher accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, was also discussed at the meeting, Erdoğan said. Trump’s approach to the issue is different than his predecessor, Barack Obama, and some questions have been raised in his head on the matter, he said.
The two sides have agreed that the related ministries will remain in contact on the issue as well as that of Andrew Brunson, a pastor jailed in Turkey, according to the Turkish president.
“We told them that this person was arrested for links to the [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization] FETÖ,” he said.
Turkey has demanded that the U.S. establish an FBI investigation committee for FETÖ, Erdoğan said, noting that the U.S. had noted the demand.
Responding to a question on his impressions on Trump after a first meet, Erdoğan said his counterpart looked like a “practical” person as he does not come from diplomatic but business life.
“I saw him as a determined person. As far as I can see, he is a direct person who does not hesitate to say what he thinks,” he said.