Turkey fights al-Qaeda like it fights the PKK: PM Erdoğan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt address a press conference at the Rosenbad government house in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov 7. Erdogan is in Sweden for a one day official visit. AFP PHOTO / TT NEWS AGENCY
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has flatly denied claims that Turkey has become a transit area for jihadist groups bound for Syria, saying al-Qaeda-linked groups are subjected to the same fight Ankara carries out against militant organizations, in an apparent reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“It is out of question that organizations like al-Qaeda or al-Nusra could take shelter in our country. This is slander and [a pack of] lies,” Erdoğan said, responding to a journalist’s questions in the joint press conference with Swedish counterpart Fredrik Reinfeldt after being asked for the prime minister’s explanation over the usage of Turkey as a transit area by the aforementioned groups. The prime minister was in Stockholm for an official visit to the Nordic country.
Erdoğan denied the existence of jihadist groups in Turkey, demanding that the journalist clarify and prove his claim.
“We have waged and we would wage the same fight against all separatist terrorist groups if there were such groups [on Turkish soil],” he said.
Turkey has long championed more robust backing for Syria’s armed opposition, but the rise of al-Qaeda-linked groups among their ranks has left it open to accusations that it is lending support to radical Islamists.
“None of the al-Qaeda-related groups in Syria has any relation with Turkey,” Erdoğan said, underlining that among the Syrian opposition groups, Turkey only recognizes the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).
Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have captured territory in parts of northern Syria near the border in recent months, raising alarm among the opposition’s Western backers. The U.S. has designated the al-Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization, saying it was trying to hijack the uprising on behalf of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The prime minister also said Turkey supported a planned internationally backed peace conference on Syria but blamed Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s key allies, for the failure this week to agree on a date for the talks.
The United States and Russia failed at a meeting chaired by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Nov. 5 to agree to a date for the Geneva II conference. “The process was again postponed. Why? Because [Moscow] is telling the opposition to accept a transitional government with al-Assad’s involvement,” Erdoğan said. “Come and sit at the table, and leave behind all the pre-conditions.”