Turkey ‘will not allow fait accompli in Idlib,’ says Erdoğan
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey will not allow any fait accompli in the Syrian province of Idlib, vowing to continue intense diplomacy with Russia and Iran for the prevention of a large-scale military operation by the Syrian army in his remarks following a three-way summit in Tehran on Sept. 7.
“We are in favor of a political solution and not a military one in Syria. For this, protecting Syria’s territorial integrity, eliminating terrorists and not allowing fait accompli are a must. We should not allow the seven-year-old Syrian war to produce bigger humanitarian trajedies. We, as three guarantor countries, have emphasized that we should work on this in a sensitive manner,” Erdoğan told journalists on board during his return from Iran over the weekend.
Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attended the leaders’ summit on Syria but a joint communiqué did not specifically call the Syrian government to cancel a military operation into the rebel-held Idlib province. Turkey said a full-scale operation without separating jihadists from civilians would cause a human tragedy in this enclave where 3.5 million people reside.
The Turkish president repeated that Turkey is also of the opinion that Syria should be cleared from all terror groups, including ISIL and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), recalling that Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and “Operation Olive Branch” into the provinces of Afrin and al-Bab were clear indicators that his government would not allow any fait accompli in the neighboring country.
Although the communiqué did not ask the Syrian government to cancel an operation, article three and four cite the need of the continuation of the ceasefire in a diplomatic manner, Erdoğan said.
“There are also members of the moderate opposition in Idlib who were brought from Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, etc. We have made it clear we will not accept any operation on civilians in the pretext of the fight against al-Nusra. This would cause a major humanitarian crisis and a new influx. Turkey should not be in a position to pay the cost for such an operation. Of course we support the elimination of terror groups in Idlib but any step to be taken should be in line with the spirit of the Astana Process and upon the agreement of the three countries,” he said.
Talks between Turkey and Russia will continue over Idlib and there could be another meeting with Putin in the coming weeks Erdoğan said, expressing his hope that positive steps on Idlib would soon be taken, including a process that would lay down all weapons in the region.
“I discussed this with Putin in a separate meeting before our departure [from Tehran]. I requested this from him. I believe he will keep his word,” said the Turkish president.
He also notified that representatives from Turkey, Russia, Germany and France would come together in Istanbul on Sept. 14, which would pave the way for a four-way leaders’ summit in the coming months.
No contact with Assad rule
On Rouhani’s call for respecting the Syrian government and being in contact with Damascus, Erdoğan recalled it was only Russia and Iran in talks with it. “We only have a relationship with the Syrian people. They are predominantly moderate opposition groups and not terror groups. No contact with the regime at all,” he said.
“But once elections are held and a new government is elected under the new constitution, that is different,” Erdoğan said.
“We do not talk about him. The important thing is the establishment of the base of voters. There is an electorate inside and outside of Syria. We should first see how it will be built,” said the Turkish president in response to a question of if [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad wins elections in the future.
Erdoğan slams US
On the United States’ position in regards to Idlib, Erdoğan stressed Turkey’s position with its ally does not fully overlap on this issue.
“They have just one pretext: ‘We will do this or that if you use chemical weapons.’ For us, only mentioning the use of chemical weapons and not conventional weapons is not the right approach. The approach that has emerged in the aftermath of the World War I on the use of chemical weapons should be updated,” he said.
The U.S. is only watching the developments in Syria and is not keeping its word, Erdoğan said, blaming Washington for not pushing the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij despite a bilateral deal.
“They said 90 days but it is over. Now, they are trying to inject terrorists back there. They did the same with Deir ez-Zor. Now, they are supporting the PYD [Democratic Union Party]/YPG there. How? With oil. The terrorists have a significant amount of revenue. It is around $300 million but could be up to $700 million to $800 when they consider oil products. I have discussed these figures with Mr. Putin. He was also stunned,” he said.