Turkey, Iran to take more steps for regional peace

Turkey, Iran to take more steps for regional peace

Turkey, Iran to take more steps for regional peace

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held talks with visiting Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, with Syria on top of the agenda after a surprise U.S. decision to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

The two leaders sat down for the meeting in Ankara, which was arranged before U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement. Trump stunned allies and American officials on Dec. 19 with an order to pull ground forces from the war-ravaged nation.

There are more steps Turkey and Iran can take toward reaching stability and peace in the Middle East, Erdoğan said at a joint press conference with Rouhani after the meeting, without directly commenting on Trump’s decision.

“There are so many steps Turkey and Iran can take together for ending conflicts and establishing peace in our region,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish and Iranian presidents chaired the fifth high-level strategic cooperation council in which all the aspects of bilateral ties including trade, energy, transportation, and security have been discussed in detail.

Neither Erdoğan nor Rouhani preferred to comment on Trump’s move, but both leaders hailed ongoing bilateral efforts to end the Syrian turmoil along with Russia, under the Astana Process.

Erdoğan recalled that the three guarantor countries of the Astana Process will intensify their works for a lasting peace in Syria.

“We are going to deepen our cooperation with Iran to this end,” he said.

“We will not allow any formation that would target the stability and security of our country and our region. We have a full will in defeating common threats and in intensifying our cooperation with Iran,” the president stated.

Erdoğan also repeated Turkey’s opposition against U.S. sanctions on Iran and described Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement as a “mistake” that could endanger regional peace.

“We will continue to stand with the Iranian people during this period where unfair pressure against Iran has heightened,” Erdoğan stated.

Rouhani, for his part, thanked Erdoğan for Turkey’s continued support to Iran against what he called unjust U.S. sanctions. “No country can ruin our bilateral ties with Turkey,” Rouhani said, praising the principled stance Turkey has taken on regional matters.

On Syria, Rouhani confirmed that the next leaders’ summit of three guarantor countries — Russia, Iran and Turkey — will take place in Russia and that close cooperation will continue. “Syria is a very important country for us. We are all in favor of respect to the territorial integrity of Syria. We will continue to work together,” he added.

Following lengthy political talks, the two leaders led the Turkey-Iran Business Forum.

Trump’s decision coincides with the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops finishing up a campaign to retake territory once held by ISIL militants where they work together with the YPG, which Ankara sees as the Syrian branch of the illegal PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.

Ankara has objected to Washington’s partnership with the YPG from the beginning and has several times called on the U.S. to fulfill an agreement reached in June that required YPG militants to leave Manbij and all the territory they controlled west of the Euphrates River in Syria’s north.

Erdoğan last week vowed to conduct a new operation in Syria, to the east of Euphrates, “to wipe out the YPG.”

Erdoğan and Trump had a phone call after the Turkish president’s announcement on Dec. 16. According to a U.S. official speaking to Reuters on Dec. 19 “everything that has followed is implementing the agreement that was made in that call.”

News of the full withdrawal drew immediate criticism from some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, who said that leaving strengthened the hand of Russia and Iran, which both support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.