Turkey and Syria and other countries, should fight against the “terrorist groups” controlling northeast Syria, Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told pro-government A Haber on Monday.
Turkey has three expectations from Russian-brokered rapprochement talks with Bashar Assad government, Çavuşoğlu said, pointing to revival of the process for a political solution in Syria and establishment of a durable peace as the first possible outcome.
The fight against terrorism is Ankara’s second aim in negotiations with Damascus according to the minister, who said that Turkey had prevented the establishment of a “terror corridor” in northern Syria through its operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed forces of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controlling some territories in northeast Syria.
Turkey sees the SDF and YPG as groups affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and legitimises its military operations in northern Syria citing threats to its national security.
“But, the YPG/PKK terrorist organisation, which still poses a threat to us and is trying to divide Syria, is still active, especially in Syria’s southeast,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that ISIS cells also existed in the region.
“We have to fight jointly against terrorism,” Çavuşoğlu said. When the presenter asked whether he was referring to joint actions between Turkey and Syria, Çavuşoğlu replied: “Turkey, Syria and other countries that will participate. Iran also has some disturbances.”
The minister said that a distinction should be made between PKK-affiliated groups and Kurdish groups that oppose the PKK, adding that before the start of the Syrian war, the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had numerous times advised Assad to allow Kurds in the country to exercise their rights.
The minister said that the voluntary return of Syrian refugees in Turkey is Ankara’s third goal in reconciliation talks, expected to continue with a meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Russia and Iran in Moscow next month.
When asked whether Assad has been stalling the talks, waiting for the results of Turkey’s 14 May elections, Çavuşoğlu told AHaber that he would refrain from commenting on reports published in the international media on that issue, adding that such questions should be forwarded to Assad himself.
“… Whether we meet the [Syrian] regime, Assad or their ministers before or after the elections will create no advantage for us; maybe it will create disadvantages,” the minister said.
“However, we are not making calculations on the elections here,” he said, adding that Ankara’s ultimate aim is to end the more than a decade-long crisis in Syria.
The minister was also asked whether Erdoğan and Assad will come together at some point as a part of the reconciliation negotiations.
Çavuşoğlu said the roadmap of the talks included plans for a meeting between intelligence chiefs and defence ministers first of all, then a meeting between foreign ministers, and eventually a meeting between the leaders of the two neighbouring countries.
“Of course now we should come together as foreign ministers. Though our meeting will have a political agenda, it will also include preparations for a possible summit between leaders,” the minister said.