Turkish FM urges EU to tighten border controls

Turkish FM urges EU to tighten border controls

Sevil Erkuş - sevil.erkus@hurriyet.com.tr KRAKOW
Turkish FM urges EU to tighten border controls

AFP Photo

The European Union should tighten its border controls for people departing the Schengen Zone in order to stanch the flow of foreign fighters heading to Syria via Turkey, Turkey’s foreign minister has said.

“Everybody agrees on the need for intelligence sharing and better cooperation on foreign fighters. We have good cooperation with the U.S. and some EU countries. We maintain case-by-case cooperation with some countries, but with many others, we carry out regular intelligence sharing,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in Krakow during events marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Çavuşoğlu said he attended an anti-Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) meeting in London on Jan. 22 where he shared his views about ineffective cooperation and the lack of strategy to stop the flow of foreign fighters to Syria.

However, intelligence sharing alone is not sufficient to stop the foreign fighters, he said, citing cases of foreign fighters who were deported by the Turkish government only to later appear at the Turkish border again.

“Checking passports and measures taken at their airports are not sufficient. We have good cooperation with the EU as an institution, but its institutional decisions are not enough. Member states should take additional measures,” he said.

EU countries part of the Schengen Agreement and non-EU countries where the Schengen Area is valid should re-regulate passport control policies, Çavuşoğlu said, noting that the exit and entry of every single traveler should be computerized. 

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister said Ankara and Washington were in negotiations on the use of the strategic İncirlik Base as part of a deal to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition. He urged Washington to finalize the agreement through accelerated political talks.

“Talks [with the U.S.] include [discussions about] how many members of the Syrian opposition will be trained, where they will be trained and how the consultations will be carried out. Plus, will it include İncirlik [base] or not? Is there a need to use İncirlik?” he said.

Turkey and the U.S. have been negotiating over the modalities of a train-and-equip program to be pledged to moderate Syrian opposition groups with the objective of creating an effective ground force, both against the Bashar al-Assad regime and ISIL.

There were expectations that the agreement would be finalized before the end of January, but Çavuşoğlu complained about the slow pace of the talks.

“Talks for the train-and-equip program are continuing. We told the Americans that talks should be held at a political level afterward because the soldiers [participating in the talks] continuously seek [political consent] on the decisions made. We told them the talks were not proceeding at the requested speed,” he said.

Instead of seeking political consent on every issue; it would be more effective to include political figures in the ongoing negotiations, the minister said, underlining that there were no problems concerning the content of the talks so far. Çavuşoğlu said he conveyed this message to Vice President Joe Biden, who said he would first seek President Barack Obama’s approval to include political figures in the talks.

'Kobane victory should not be exaggerated'

Another Syria-related issue is the recent liberation of Kobane, a northern town in Syria near the Turkish border. However, Çavuşoğlu said there is "no need to exaggerate the victory of the Kurdish forces in Kobane against ISIL," underlining that control of the town could change hands from one group to another in the absence of a political settlement in Syria.

“In the absence of a permanent political settlement and of stability and peace, today one group, the other day another group could control [Kobane]. We have to fight against this efficiently. Turkey’s position is clear on this issue,” he said, adding that Ankara was closely following developments in Kobane.

Çavuşoğlu criticized other countries for not assuming responsibility on the Syrian crisis, as he did at the London meeting on Jan. 22. “Unfortunately, many countries are not taking responsibility, neither on the struggle against terror, nor bringing a political solution [to Syria],” he said.

'No evidence that Somalia attack was against Turkey'

Çavuşoğlu also rejected claims that the last attack in Somalia by extremist al-Shabaab at a hotel, in which some of the members of the Turkish presidential delegation were present, specifically targeted Turkey, because Somalis were also present at the time. 

“There is no evidence or statement that the attack was carried against Turkey. It’s not certain for what reason they attacked [the hotel],” he said. There has been no increase in hostility against Turkey in Somalia and Ankara has been providing humanitarian assistance to Somalia, including building schools, hospitals and the only main road in the capital of Mogadishu, said Çavuşoğlu.

When asked about media claims that a third country could be involved in the Somalia attack, the minister said he could not say if the allegations were true, adding that the reason for the attack was not yet certain.

'Turkey not taking sides in Libya'

Çavuşoğlu also responded to claims that Turkey was siding with the Tripoli government, deemed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, in the ongoing unrest in the North African country.

“What we want in Libya is a truce and the immediate start of talks. A national unity government should be formed and should work with the U.N. This is the message we are delivering to both sides. We are not taking any sides in Libya,” Çavuşoğlu said. Criticizing outside interventions in Libya and particularly Gen. Khalifa Hafter for violating the cease-fire, he said Ankara "wants the unity of Libya."

"If there is anyone who is against this, they are against Turkey. The U.N. appreciates [Turkey]. The role Turkey is trying to play is very important for the future of Libya,” he added.