Turkey in talks with Russia, US to stop YPG from filling east Syria void
Serkan Demirtaş – ANKARA
Turkey will never tolerate the presence of the YPG on its borders even if it comes to an agreement with the Syrian regime to maintain control of the east of River Euphrates, Turkey’s top diplomat has said, speaking about Ankara’s plans to coordinate with both the United States and Russia to prevent the YPG from filling the void after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“We will never hesitate in eliminating terrorists from our border even though the YPG agreed with the Syrian regime and they will control the area together. Our duty is to eliminate this threat on our national security by whomever this terrorist organization is being controlled,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told journalists at a press conference in Ankara on Dec. 25.
Recalling that Turkey has been fighting against the PKK in Iraqi territories despite the fact that the area is under the control of the Iraqi government, Çavuşoğlu said, “The same is valid for Syria. This is about a national security issue. If we don’t do it today, we would pay a heavier price in the future.”
“These are issues we follow closely. Would the Syrian regime enter the east of Euphrates, would they dare do so and whether they are in talks with YPG are issues that need to be confirmed as we follow closely,” he said.
The Turkish foreign minister’s remarks came upon a question about potential consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and whether Turkey will hold an incursion into eastern Syria to eliminate the YPG.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had announced an imminent Turkish operation into the said area, but which was later delayed due to the sudden decision of U.S. President Donald Trump on the complete withdrawal from Syria.
“We are in the waiting process with regard to this operation after the withdrawal decision. We will have a working group meeting with the U.S. on Syria on Jan. 8. Talks between the two militaries are also underway. We are therefore in a waiting process but we are in talks about its timing,” Çavuşoğlu stated.
Coordination with US, Syria
One of the most important concerns is a potential penetration of “terror groups, like the YPG and ISIL” into the areas to be evacuated by the U.S. troops, and Turkey’s efforts is to “avoid any terrorist comeback,” Çavuşoğlu informed.
“We should be in coordination with the U.S. in order not to allow terror organizations to benefit from any potential vacuum after the withdrawal. We should also coordinate with other actors in Syria – except for the regime,” he stated.
Turkey’s top diplomat has singled out Russia as a very important actor in Syria while informing about his scheduled visit to Moscow to discuss all recent developments in the war-torn country upon the instructions of Erdoğan.
“It’s very important for us to make assessments on the developments with them. I will pay a visit to Moscow in the coming days and will exchange views. It’s very healthy that we hold these talks,” he stressed.
Erdoğan, speaking to reporters in parliament on Dec 25, said he is planning to have a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Çavuşoğlu’s trip to Moscow.
Turkey can eliminate ISIL alone
One of the motivations Trump has outlined in regards to pulling the troops out of Syria was the fact that Erdoğan had told him that the U.S. does not need the YPG in fighting ISIL and that Turkey could do it. When asked whether Turkey would deploy troops into southern Syria although it’s far distance from its borders, Çavuşoğlu recalled that it was only Turkey who had fought against the jihadists and killed 4,000 of them through the Operation Euphrates Shield.
“We can do this no matter where in Syria. It’s a fact that all Muslim countries, Gulf countries, Western countries, Russia have the same view on ISIL. Therefore we can cooperate with everybody except for terror organizations and the Syrian regime in the fight against ISIL,” he said. “But Turkey has the will and power to clear Syria of ISIL alone as well.”
Manbij road map should be implemented
Another issue which Turkey is speaking about with the U.S. is the completion of a bilateral road map that stipulates the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij city of Syria toward the east of Euphrates.
Çavuşoğlu said he told his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo to accelerate the implementation of the road map as the withdrawal will begin in a bid to show that Turkish-American partnership is continuing in a solid way. “Let’s do it to avoid the image of the U.S. as a country which has not kept its word. Let’s leave this issue to our militaries,” he said.
A U.S. military team is expected to arrive in Ankara in the coming days to discuss all these aspects of the withdrawal as well as on Turkey’s demand for the collection of U.S. weaponry from the YPG.
“There are some heavy weapons at the hands of the YPG. They need to be taken back. We have recalled the U.S. about our sensitivity on this,” he stated.
France should contribute to normalization
On a question over France’s decision to continue its military presence in Syria, the minister said it was not a secret that the French government was lending support to the YPG as President Emmanuel Macron had received them at the Elyseé Palace.
“We have no information that they have sent additional troops to Syria. But they said they will continue their presence there. What we have told them is that it’s OK if they are there to contribute to the future of Syria but if they are doing to protect the YPG it will be futile,” Çavuşoğlu stated.
The only way for Syria is fair elections
Speaking about ongoing talks for a political settlement to the seven-year-old civil war in Syria, Çavuşoğlu said the only way for stabilization in the country is to hold fair and transparent elections after the completion of the writing of the new constitution.
“We know very well that the regime opts for a military solution. But we, as the Astana guarantors, are conducting talks. We are heading toward a positive point,” he said. Recalling that the Idlib agreement provided between Turkey and Russia was successful in averting a military operation by the regime, although there were some minor incidents from time to time.
“There is a gradual calmness in Idlib between the regime and the opposition. We should make progress in the political process so that it can turn into a sustainable process. The two are very much linked to each other,” he stressed.