Obama tells Erdoğan ‘to close Syrian border’
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a bilateral meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Paris, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. The leaders discussed the continuing crisis in Syria, and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AP Photo/Evan VucciU.S. President Barack Obama said he had spoken to his Turkish counterpart in Paris on the sidelines of a climate change conference about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria, while Secretary of State John Kerry has said Erdoğan is “completely committed and ready to proceed” to help guarantee that the remaining portion of the border is closed.
“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said during a speech delivered at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) HQ in Paris on Dec. 1.
“We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps. In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters and for [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] ISIL to ship out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities,” he added.
Stating that the Turkish and U.S. militaries were working together to determine how a combination of air and Turkish ground forces on the Turkish side of the border can do a better job of sealing the border, Obama said that he believed Erdoğan “recognizes that.”
With more than 2 million displaced Syrians living throughout Turkey, Obama said he recognized that Turkey had made an enormous humanitarian effort regarding Syrian refugees.
“That puts enormous strains on their infrastructure, on their housing, on employment. And Turkey has continued to keep those borders open for people in real need,” he said, adding that he was “glad that the EU was looking to do more to help Turkey manage those refugee flows.”
Kerry says Turkey ready to seal border
Meanwhile, Kerry said Dec. 2 in Brussels that the Turkish side was ready to cooperate in totally sealing its border with Syria.
“President Erdoğan is completely committed and ready to proceed with Turkish forces, and in cooperation with others, to help guarantee that the remaining portion of the border is sealed,” Kerry said after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28 NATO states in Brussels, according to Reuters.
The United States and Turkey hope that by sweeping ISIL from that border zone they can deprive it of a smuggling route which has seen its ranks swell with foreign fighters and its coffers boosted by illicit trade.
Kerry urged NATO allies to intensify the fight against ISIL, while also saying that Russia could be an “extremely constructive player” in finding an eventual peace settlement in Syria, which has been consumed by civil war for more than four years.
“I called on every NATO ally to step up support in the fight against Daesh [ISIL], striking at the organization’s core in Syria and Iraq,” Kerry said, according to Agence France-Presse.
“A number of allies are already bringing more to this battle or are planning to increase their contributions,” he said.
US ‘welcomes’ Russia’s engagement in Syria
Kerry said that they “welcomed Russian’s engagement in the Syria process.”
“As long as they’re focused on Daesh and as long they are genuine in wanting to be part of implementing the Geneva [accords], they can be an extremely constructive and important player in reaching a solution,” Kerry said.
Russia and NATO have been at loggerheads on a series of issues on their borders in recent years including the conflict in Ukraine and Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kerry also said that the Iraqi government was fully briefed on U.S. plans to deploy American special forces to Iraq and the two governments would consult closely on where they will go and what they will do.
“The government of Iraq was of course briefed in advance of Secretary Carter’s announcement,” Kerry told reporters at NATO.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Dec. 1 that Washington would deploy a new force of special operations troops to Iraq to combat ISIL who have seized swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
“We will continue to work very, very closely with our Iraqi partners on exactly who would be deployed, where they would be deployed, what kinds of missions people would undertake, how they would support Iraqi efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kerry added.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said it welcomed foreign assistance but Iraq’s government would need to approve any deployment of special operations forces anywhere in Iraq. He also said foreign ground combat troops were not needed in Iraq, although it was unclear whether Baghdad viewed these U.S. special operations forces in that role.