US delaying Manbij deal in Syria, Turkish President Erdoğan says
HANDE FIRAT - ANKARA/BISHKEK
The United States is delaying the implementation of a key bilateral deal that foresees the withdrawal of the YPG from the Syrian city of Manbij, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, stressing that he will not seek an appointment with U.S. President Donald Trump during U.N. meetings late September due to ongoing disputes.
“The job is being delayed. We have to see this fact. We are not at an ideal point. The agreement that we had reached is not being implemented in the right direction,” Erdoğan told journalists on his return from Bishkek to Ankara late Sept 3.
The agreement Erdoğan referred to was brokered between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4, which sought the withdrawal of the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the illegal PKK, from Manbij and the joint control of the city by Turkish and American troops.
According to Turkish officials, the process had to be completed on Sept. 4 but Turkish and American troops could not yet begin joint patrolling missions due to the delayed training of the two sides’ militaries in the region.
Erdoğan expressed hope that a new process would begin in the implementation of the deal as a result of future talks by Çavuşoğlu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar with their U.S. counterparts.
“I hope a new process will be launched and desired steps with regards to Manbij and Tel Rifaat will be taken,” he said.
Jeffrey’s appointment a right decision
Erdoğan’s criticisms on the Manibj deal came as Ankara prepares to host the U.S.’s newly appointed Syria special representative, James Jeffrey, in the Turkish capital on Sept. 4. Jeffrey had served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey between 2008 and 2010 before being appointed to Baghdad.
“I see Mr. Jeffrey’s appointment as a correct decision,” he said, noting that his friendship with Jeffrey dates back to the latter’s post in the Turkish capital. Ankara believes Jeffrey’s appointment is positive, particularly after Brett McGurk, whose actions in the Syrian field angered Ankara several times.
No rendezvous with Trump in New York
Responding to a question, Erdoğan stressed that the legal process on the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson still continues and that Turkey “will not fulfill any unlawful demand by Washington for the release of the pastor.”
“Turkey upholds the rule of law and no unlawful demand can be considered,” he stressed, rejecting U.S. calls for the immediate release of the pastor if Turkey does not want to face fresh sanctions.
“Moreover, what is happening in the U.S. is clear, for example, the situation of Halkbank Deputy General Director Mr. Hakan Atilla.”
“What did Halkbank and its deputy manager do wrong? There is no evidence. They don’t care about laws. They think: ‘I am right because I am powerful,’” Erdoğan stated, expressing Turkey’s discontent with its strategic NATO ally and its unlawful moves against Turkey.
“These are not right. It’s not right for a strategic partner to move like this. I have served as prime minister and president for the last 16 years. There were even moments when we could not supply our needs from the U.S. But terror organizations can get all kinds of weapons without any payments. And they use these weapons against us. What kind of a strategic partnership is this?” he added.
The president also recalled that the U.S. did not respond to Turkey’s request to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind of the July 2016 failed coup.
Answering a question, Erdoğan said an appointment with Trump is not anticipated in New York during the U.N. General Assembly meetings in September. “And I will not ask for an appointment,” he said.
Tehran summit on Idlib important
Erdoğan also touched on the impending Syrian military operation into Syria’s Idlib province, which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Citing ongoing talks between Turkey, Russia and Iran over the situation in Idlib, Erdoğan warned of a “grave massacre if missiles are fired onto the province.”
“In such a case, where will all these people who want to flee violence go? They will, to a large extent, flee to us. This can create a new difficulty,” Erdoğan stressed, informing that the leaders of these countries will meet in Tehran on Sept 7.
“We will make progress on this issue at the summit. This is the continuation of the Astana process and not against the Geneva process. We do not consider anything like this. God willing, we hope to prevent extreme actions of the regime there thanks to positive results of the Tehran Summit,” he stated. “We attach great importance to the Tehran Summit.”
Describing the situation in Idlib as merciless, Erdoğan spoke about the ongoing talks between the defense and foreign ministers of the guarantor countries. “If a disaster takes place, the number one destination of these people is Turkey. It would bring about a risk especially at a time when we are of the opinion that things are normalizing and [Syrians] may return home,” Erdoğan said.
EU yet to respond to our positive moves
On Turkey-EU ties amid the former’s economic difficulties, Erdoğan recalled that he is planning to pay a very important visit to Germany late September, citing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s role as the leader of the European Union.
“Unfortunately, the EU has not positively responded to our positive steps so far. We still haven’t seen them. Many decisions on visa liberalization and assistance to refugees were delayed. We want to overcome them so that we can see our path with the EU. How far will we go? Will anything concrete happen?” Erdoğan said.
Ties with France are better, but French President Emmanuel Macron has not paid a return visit to Turkey, Erdoğan stressed. Stances taken by the Netherlands and Brussels within the EU are not positive either, along with very negative statements from Austria, Erdoğan said.
“We, as Turkey, have always displayed a positive stance since the beginning of our official relations in 1963. Unfortunately, EU countries failed to do the same. They say they regard the PKK as a terror organization but they let it speak in their halls and allow them to hang their posters. They also allow them to pitch tents in front of parliaments,” the president added.