Russia positive on Turkey’s plans to secure its borders: FM Çavuşoğlu
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mention of a 1998-dated bilateral anti-terror protocol between Turkey and Syria has been interpreted by Ankara as a green light given by Moscow to a Turkish military operation against the YPG on its southern border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said a day after a meeting between the Turkish and Russian presidents.
“We think he referred to this [protocol] implying that Turkey can intervene in [Syria]. And this is positive for us,” Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster AHaber in an interview on Jan. 24.
Speaking about the talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Putin in Moscow on Jan. 23, he said all recent developments in Syria have been discussed particularly after the U.S. decision to withdraw from the war-torn country.
One specific item on the agenda of the talks was the U.S.’s proposal to set up a security zone 32 kilometers deep inside Syria that Ankara says is to protect its borders from the YPG, which it sees as an offshoot of the PKK. Turkey has long been reinforcing its troops along its border with Syria in preparation for an incursion into its southern neighbor.
At a joint press conference in Moscow, when asked how Russia evaluates the proposed safe zone, Putin said: “The treaty between Syria and Turkey of the year 1998 is still valid. And it deals, in particular, with the fight against terrorism. I think that this is the base that closes many issues in terms of ensuring Turkey’s security on its southern borders. Today we have been discussing this issue quite thoroughly, fully and actively.”
Turkey’s right to intervene
The treaty Putin referred to is the Adana Protocol signed between Ankara and Damascus late 1998 after the former threatened to intervene militarily if the Syrian government did not quell its support for the PKK and halt sheltering PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on its territories.
Although the Adana Protocol is still legally valid, it is no longer active as ties between the two countries have been broken since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011.
Çavuşoğlu recalled that the protocol obliges Syria to “fight against terrorists that are posing a threat against Turkey,” while stressing that “it also gives the right to intervene to Turkey in the event that Syria fails to take these measures.”
The protocol is still valid but is not being implemented, the minister said, noting that he believed Putin’s reference to the protocol was a green light given to Turkey to use its right to intervene.
Nothing is certain on secure zone
On questions about Ankara-Washington talks over the secure zone, the minister said there was nothing decided yet about it.
“We could establish a safe zone on our own but we will not exclude the U.S., Russia or others if they are willing to cooperate,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Turkey and the U.S. had exchanged position papers in their first meeting after the U.S. withdrawal decision on Jan. 8 and there are points agreed and disagreed on over the process, he said.
Turkey expects the U.S. to collect all the weapons it provided to the YPG and to leave the military facilities it has been using in Syria to Turkey.
Turkey, Russia agree on Syria except for Assad’s future
On ongoing efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian question, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey, Russia and Iran are on the same page for an immediate establishment of a committee tasked to write a new constitution for Syria.
“We are on the same page with Russia except for Assad,” he said, in reference to the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “They obviously want to continue with him. But we tell them ‘a man responsible for the death of more than one million Syrians cannot bring about unity’.”