Turkey is eyeing new ties with the United States under the administration of President Donald Trump, demanding a strong stance on the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the extradition of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Erdoğan and Trump are expected to hold their first face-to-face meeting on May 16 in Washington.
“Our high-level talks with the Trump administration have been continuing since January 2017. I believe that we will open a fresh page with Trump,” Erdoğan said at the Atlantic Council’s Istanbul Summit on April 28, voicing the country’s disturbance over Washington’s cooperation with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“The hesitant attitudes toward terrorist organizations need to be abandoned as soon as possible,” the president said.
“Everyone needs to accept that a terrorist organization can’t be eliminated with another one,” Erdoğan said, adding that there could be no such thing as “a good terrorist organization.”
“We can’t achieve anything with the logic ‘this terrorist organization is on my side, so it’s good, but the other one is against me, so it’s bad.’ All terrorist organizations are bad. Thus, we need to continue our struggle against terrorist groups in joint solidarity. When we do that, the world will be safe from these gangs and killers,” he also said.
Saying that “remaining silent to the ethnic cleansing activities of the terrorist groups such as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) and YPG just because they fight against ISIL invites new crimes against humanity,” Erdoğan said.
“The PYD and the YPG are the miscarried children of the PKK
terrorist organization. We very well know this and if there is someone who knows who is who in this region, it’s us. That’s why we should be asked questions. Our friends should find these things out from us. Otherwise, the wrong steps are taken based on the wrong information and the region will go into a major downfall. Let’s not forget that terrorist groups are like scorpions. It definitely will sting the hand that feeds it,” he said.
During his speech, Erdoğan also said “destroying ISIL is possible with steps other than legitimizing terror,” while criticizing the U.S. for acting with the PYD.
“The U.S. acting with PYD in Syria is damaging the spirit of alliance and partnership,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would never allow the establishment of a “terror corridor” in northern Syria.
“We will never allow the creation of a terror corridor along our southern border. As you know, there are some ignorant people who are attempting to establish a state in northern Syria. They say the ignorant are brave.
We will never allow the establishment of such a state in northern Syria,” Erdoğan said, noting that Ankara
was supporting the protection of Syria’s territorial integrity.
Erdoğan also stressed the need for cooperation on the issue of “foreign terrorist fighters.”
“If the necessary cooperation was established regarding foreign terrorist fighters, could the attacks in Brussels last year have been carried out? If a principled stance had been presented without making discriminations between terrorist organizations, would these herds of killers be able to get this strong? I’m sure that the double standards we witness in the issues that concern our security, future and human life hurt you just like they hurt me,” he said.
Claiming that Turkey had inflicted the biggest blow on ISIL with the Euphrates Shield Operation, Erdoğan noted that over 3,000 ISIL militants were “neutralized” in the area in which the operation was carried out.
“I see a benefit in deciphering the inaccurate news in the foreign press. By clearing up 2,500 square kilometers from the terrorists, we had allowed nearly 50,000 Syrians to return home. This operation, which we carried out by cooperating with the true owners of the region, was the biggest blow to ISIL. Now we are trying to make life return to normal in that area,” he added.
During his speech, Erdoğan reiterated his call for a safe zone in northern Syria.
“Let’s declare the region in northern Syria a safe zone cleared from terror, declare it a no-fly zone at the same time and continue train-and-equip efforts here. Turkey is ready to do its part,” Erdoğan said, adding that foreign leaders had not done anything on the issue despite praising the idea in bilateral meetings.
“The support to terrorist groups continued. If this [aforementioned suggestion] was made then Syrians wouldn’t have left Syria. What we wanted was to construct buildings and by establishing educational, medical and social facilities, build a new city there, but we couldn’t do it,” he said.
Erdoğan said “there is no other way for the terror swamp, which has become an education camp for ISIL, the YPG, al-Qaeda and the Shabiha, to be drained except for a safe zone.”
Erdoğan also criticized the U.S. on the extradition of Gülen, who has been accused of leading the July 2016 coup attempt.
“It makes our citizens upset that Gülen is continuing its terrorist activities in Pennsylvania. This terrorist organization is active in 170 countries and he manages the activities in all those countries from the U.S. This villain that killed 249 people shouldn’t find a space to live in any civilized country. Extradite him to Turkey in order for him to be tried,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, meanwhile, said the issues of the PYD, YPG and Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) would be discussed during the Trump-Erdoğan meeting.
“One expectation is to see some change regarding cooperation against ISIL. On the FETÖ issue, the U.S. administration should take very clear steps,” Kalın said, adding that Turkey respected the rule of law and the judicial process. When asked about Turkey’s recent air strikes on Sinjar in northern Iraq and the U.S. reaction to it, Kalın said the issue would be handled in depth during his Washington visit.