Turkey to deploy troops inside Syria’s Idlib: Erdoğan
NEW YORK - ReutersTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sept. 21 Turkey will deploy troops in Syria’s northern Idlib region as part of a so-called de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia last month.
The “de-escalation” zones, agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, would be further discussed in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip to Ankara next week, Erdoğan said in an interview with Reuters while he was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly.
“Under the agreement, Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib and Turkey will maintain the security inside Idlib region,” Erdoğan said.
“The task is not easy ... With Putin, we will discuss additional steps that need to be taken in order to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace,” he said.
Erdoğan also said Turkey was considering counter-measures, including imposing sanctions, against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq over a planned referendum.
KRG authorities have defied growing international pressure to call off the referendum on independence. Iraq’s neighbors fear it will fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations and Western allies have said it could detract from the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Turning to another issue, Erdoğan called on the United States to extradite the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, widely believed to have been behind the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
“Gülen’s entire network is being run from the United States. Terrorists should not be harbored here. We need U.S. assistance on this matter,” Erdoğan said.
“Turkey is a state of law,” said Erdoğan, commenting on the dismissals, suspensions and arrests that took place after the thwarted coup.
“Let me be very clear, in terms of freedom of press, there are no challenges in Turkey ... If journalists are supporters of terrorists, if they are double-agents, are we not supposed to do what is necessary against them? Turkey is a state of law, within which the judiciary takes necessary measures ... This is a sheer lie ... they were coup plotters,” he also said.
Thousands of people were dismissed with state of emergency decrees, while many others were jailed in addition to the shut-down of institutions.
Another tense topic between the U.S. and Turkey has been Washington’s support for the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey says is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in its fight against ISIL.
During the interview, Erdoğan warned Washington that arming the YPG could end up hurting Washington and its allies.
“Weapons are being deployed to the YPG ... We are strategic allies with the United States ... We should avoid helping the YPG,” he said.
At a critical time for Turkish-Germany relations, Erdoğan said in the interview he hoped relations with Germany could be improved, praising German Chancellor Angela Merkel for refraining from criticizing Turkey and its policies.
“I am quite hopeful relations will improve ... We have no problem with the German public. We have a problem with some officials’ wrong attitude against Turkey,” he said.
Merkel, who has been at odds with Erdoğan on many fronts over the last year, has said that “the fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU.” Merkel has said she will speak to other European Union leaders to end Turkey’s EU accession talks.
“Things never went well for the last 54 years regarding Turkey’s EU membership ... We have been lingering at the doorstep of the EU and things have got worse. They have never kept their promises,” Erdoğan said.