NATO stronger, more meaningful with Turkey, says defense minister
"NATO is stronger, more meaningful with Turkey, and questioning Turkey is meaningless," Hulusi Akar told Anadolu Agency's Editor's Desk in the capital Ankara.
Akar added that when Turkey asserts its interests and rights in a NATO venue, this should not be perceived as a stance against the alliance.
"Our southern borders are also NATO's southern borders. So protection of our southern borders is also for the security of NATO and Europe," he added.
Referring to Turkey-Libya maritime pact, Akar reiterated that it was signed to defend the rights of the two sovereign countries, and does not pose a threat on neighboring countries.
"Greece's move to expel Libya envoy over Turkey-Libya maritime pact is a sign of weakness," Akar said.
Signed on Nov. 27 and passed by Turkey's parliament, the memorandum determining both countries' maritime jurisdictions rejects unilateral and illegal activities by other regional countries and international firms and aims to protect the rights of both countries in line with the international law of the sea.
The entire world must know that YPG is a terror group, Akar said, stressing that the YPG/PKK terror group in northern Syria is the same as the terrorist PKK.
Speaking on Turkey's latest anti-terror operation in northeast Syria, he said with Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, almost 145-km (90-mile) long, 30-km (18.6-mile) deep region is under Turkish control.
He noted that Syrian National Army (SNA) is fighting side by side with Turkey to neutralize terrorists and to clear the territory from terrorists in northern Syria.
Turkey on Oct. 9 launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
Under two separate deals with the U.S. and Russia, Turkey paused the operation to allow the withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the planned northern Syria safe zone.
Ankara wants to rid the YPG/PKK terrorists to withdraw so the safe zone can be created to allow for the safe return of some two million refugees.
S-400, F-35 issues
Referring to the latest situation on the establishment of S-400 air-defense system, Akar said that setting up S-400 system and personnel training are currently ongoing and activities on S-400 missiles will be conducted as planned.
Opposing deployment of the Russian system, U.S. officials claimed they (S-400s) would be incompatible with NATO systems and would expose its F-35 jets to possible Russian subterfuge.
Turkey, however, stressed that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems, and posed no threat to the alliance or its armaments.
Turkey also proposed a commission to clarify any technical issues, but the U.S. has failed to respond.
Ankara has also rebuffed suggestions from U.S. leaders that Turkey leaves the Russian S-400 system unactivated in order to avoid possible U.S. sanctions.
The S-400 is seen as one of the most advanced missile systems in the world, capable of tracking several targets simultaneously.
Noting that Turkey is a partner, not a customer of F-35 joint strike fighter program, Akar stressed that Turkey has fulfilled all its responsibilities as a partner.
Turkey's acquisition of the advanced Russian S-400 air-defense system prompted Washington to remove Turkey from the F-35 fifth-generation joint strike fighter program this July.
The U.S. maintains that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the jet.
In 2017, Turkey decided to purchase the S-400 air-defense system from Russia after years of talks with the Obama administration to buy the Patriot missile system ended without a deal.