No objection from NATO over S-400s: Turkish FM
As part of his visit to Italy to attend the 5th MED 2019-Mediterranean Forum from Dec. 5 to 7, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke to the local daily Corriere della Sera on a variety of topics, including Turkey's S-400 purchase, its anti-terror operation in northern Syria and recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
"The U.S. criticized us, however, NATO did not say anything. On the contrary, NATO secretary-general [Jens Stoltenberg] repeatedly stated all countries have the right to buy the weapon and defense system it wants," he said.
Syria and anti-terror operations
Çavuşoğlu said many false stories accusing Turkey of changing the demographic structure of northern Syria, creating a humanitarian crisis or even reviving the ISIL terror group were circulating on international media, but they were only "smear campaigns" by those seeking to establish a state in the region.
He said the international community should focus on the reconstruction of the war-ridden region, not the smear campaign against Turkey, adding the Ankara administration was ready to collaborate with all countries.
Asked about any possible contact with Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Çavuşoğlu said: “Everybody's help is needed for the return of refugees to Syria. That might be an option.”
However, he emphasized Assad could not be a unifying factor for the resolution of the Syrian conflict as he used chemical weapons and the blood of half a million people were at his hands.
On Turkey's anti-terror "Operation Peace Spring," the top diplomat said the Ankara administration initially sought to launch the operation a year ago.
However, the U.S. asked Turkey to wait till the withdrawal of its troops from Syria and then the former came up with a safe zone idea.
Turkey accepted the U.S. proposal, however, he said the suggestion was nothing but a stalling tactic and Turkey eventually launched the anti-terror operation.
Mediterranean and drilling
When asked if Turkey will use force amid its search and drilling activities off Cyprus, Çavuşoğlu said Ankara rejected unilateral steps in the Eastern Mediterranean region and suggested the establishment of a commission that will distribute revenues, yet no party took side with collaboration calls.
Turkey does not want a military escalation in the region, Çavuşoğlu warned, adding it was ready to take any measure to defend its vessels operating there.
FETÖ terror group
On a question regarding the arrests and dismissals following July 15, 2016 defeated coup attempt, Çavuşoğlu asserted that the government had the responsibility to defend its citizens, and added the FETÖ terrorists directly struck the parliament with fighter jets.
FETÖ and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen orchestrated the defeated coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people killed and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETÖ of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.