İBRAHIM ALTAY – Daily Sabah
The positive atmosphere regarding the S-400, F-35 issues in the G20 sideline meetings, where the leaders of Turkey and the U.S. came together, may also hint at a more hopeful future for bilateral ties
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Turkey’s stance on the purchase of S-400 missiles as well as the F-35 issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday, hinting that with these warm talks, the relations between the two countries may actually enter into a new, positive period. “We had talks with President Trump in a very positive atmosphere,” Erdoğan said, during a meeting with journalists in Japan where he went to attend the G20 summit and held many side meetings with various world leaders, including Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “[Trump] supports us on the S-400 and F-35 issues. He made it clear in front of the press that they are looking for different options when it comes to the sanctions,” Erdoğan expressed, giving an insight into Trump’s opinions over the current developments that are affecting Turkish-U.S. relations.
In his meeting with Erdoğan on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Trump slammed the Obama administration’s reluctance to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey in 2013, saying Turkey was not treated fairly as a NATO member. “So I have to tell you, he [Erdoğan] is a NATO member and he is somebody I have become friendly with. And you have to treat fairly. You understand that? You have to treat fairly. I don’t think he was treated fairly. I don’t think he was treated fairly,” Trump added, giving a clear sign that his administration will not seek the path of sanctions and avoid an unfair treatment of Turkey in the ongoing S-400 and F-35 tensions. He said his administration would be looking at different solutions regarding the issues.
Referring at the Trump’s personality, Erdoğan said that he respects the U.S. President’s clear and precise expressions on these critical issues.
“While expressing some things, Trump does not have a hidden agenda on his mind,” the president said, adding that this is a very unique feature of Trump, especially when considering that he has many opponents within his team over many issues.
Erdoğan also said that Trump accused the Obama administration for the misconduct regarding the Patriots, saying that in Trump’s opinion if he [former U.S. President Barrack Obama] was to give Patriots to Turkey, things would not have come to this point. When asked about Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) or other sanctions against Turkey, Trump, first, severely criticized the unfair treatment of Turkey by the Obama administration and said “we are looking at it, but it’s [sanctions] a two-way street.”
“They [Obama administration] wouldn’t sell him [Erdoğan], they wouldn’t let him buy the missile he wanted to buy which is the Patriot. And after he buys something else, they say now we will sell you the Patriot,” Trump said.
The president added that in Trump’s opinion, the U.S. should be treating Turkey fairly right now. Touching upon Trump’s further remarks on the issue, Erdoğan said that the U.S. president told him that he does not like the U.S. to be known as a country that does not provide products to a country that has made its payments already, reminding that Turkey has paid $1.4 billion to the U.S. for the F-35s. “We’ve made our payment but they do not deliver our purchase to us,” Erdoğan said, adding that this is not the right way for a trader to act to its costumer.
“We’ve appointed our friends to take special interest over this issue,” he further expressed. “We’ve so far has made payment that is worth $1.4 billion and the war plane number that we will purchase is 100 plus 16. Meaning that the total number is 116,” the president expressed.
“He [Trump] also rightfully criticized this approach to a country, a strategic partner, who makes its payments without missing any. Is this an act that would suit a country like the U.S.?” Erdoğan asked, reminding the press that the U.S. also suspended the training of F-35 pilots. “Now, the contrary situation takes place in Russia where a very serious S-400 training took place. The ones who participated in those training are also the teachers, meaning that when they return to Turkey, they’ll train more people on the issue,” he said.
Tensions between the two NATO allies have been rising over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400s, which Turkey is about to receive in the first half of this month. Washington threatened Turkey that it could face sanctions and would be excluded from the F-35 program, a multinational NATO defense project in which Turkey is a major manufacturer and buyer.
Turkey has on every occasion argued it won’t back down on the deal and buying the Russian defense system is a matter of sovereign decision-making. However, it should be noted that although there seems to be tension between the two countries, the leaders of the countries, Erdoğan and Trump, are actually on quite good terms with each other, which is expected to have a positive impact over the process.
“We are already on our way [on the S-400 issue]. Within a week, maximum in 10 days, the first series [of S-400 missiles] will be delivered. I’ve made this clear to Trump myself and Putin also said this to him,” he expressed.
Recalling that technologically an S-400 is worth three Patriots, Erdoğan said that despite these facts, Turkey is ready to see the terms and even if the terms are equal with the S-400 deal, the country is ready to purchase the Patriots as well.
“However, if they are not equal, I’m sorry but if you [the U.S.] are taking your own interests into consideration, then we’ll prioritize our interests as well,” he underlined.
Trump: U.S. treatment of Turkey is unfair
Underlining that Trump has said nothing about the sanctions so far, Erdoğan said that Trump has clearly said “you’re right” to him on the subject.
“We’ve brought this issue to a much further level,” the president added. “In this further level, Mr. Trump said that ‘this is unfairness.'” “This is a very important thing,” the president emphasized.
“People should not talk on the S-400 subject randomly anymore since Trump has made his stance clear with these talks,” Erdoğan added. Erdoğan also reminded the media that the trilateral talks between him Trump and Putin was also very positive as well as the bilateral one between Trump and Putin when it comes to the S-400 and F-35 issues.
“I believe that we will get over this issue without major troubles,” the president underlined, indicating that Trump’s upcoming visit to Turkey will also contribute to these positive talks.
Russia is urged to warn regime over attacks in Idlib
When it comes to the escalating violence in Idlib, Syria, Erdoğan said that although Russia also has an impact in the region, the Assad regime is behind every attack.
“We [as Turkey] say that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin should warn the regime on these issues,” he said.
Pointing to the recent attack on a Turkish observation post where a Turkish soldier was killed, Erdoğan said that if similar wrongdoings occur in the upcoming period, Turkey would continue to do what is necessary as it did before.
As the opposition’s last enclave, Idlib’s pre-war population of 1.5 million has swelled to around 3 million with new refugee waves after it was designated a “de-escalation zone” under the Astana agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran that was signed in May 2017 to pave the way for a permanent political solution in Syria. Turkey and Russia inked a deal for a buffer zone in September to prevent a massive regime offensive in the Idlib region, near the Turkish border.
Following eight months of calm provided by the Sochi deal, the Syrian regime intensified its attacks starting April 26, under the pretext of fighting Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants holed up in Idlib. Since late April, relentless bombardment by the Bashar Assad regime and its ally Russia has so far killed nearly 500 civilians. The violence has forced around 330,000 people to flee their homes and has damaged 23 health centers, the United Nations said.
“Today, one of the major issues that we highly prioritize is the sign that 300,000 people are moving toward our border. We desire to put an end to this movement. Until now, 330,000 people have returned to Syria. While we were hoping for more to return, if such a move toward Turkey occurs because of Idlib, then there is a problem,” Erdoğan said, implying that all of Turkey’s efforts to enable refugees to return to their hometowns would be wasted.
The return of Syrian refugees has been made possible recently thanks to Turkey’s two operations: Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 to clear provinces west of the Euphrates, such as al-Bab and Jarablus, from Daesh and the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Operation Olive Branch was launched in 2018 in northwestern Afrin province, again to clear the region of terrorist elements. Both these operations proved successful and achieved their goals of bringing peace to the region.
Safe zone to be a place where refugees can be self-reliant
When it comes to the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, Erdoğan said that Turkey is ready to take on the responsibility of building a home range in the region, but they expect financial support from the U.S., Russia, Germany, the U.K. and France.
“Unfortunately [despite previously promising to support such projects], none of these countries committed to their promises. Which means that we are taking the responsibility on our shoulders as well,” he said.
Mentioning Turkey’s plans on a possible safe zone, Erdoğan said that they desire a living space where there are houses with gardens that are built in accordance with the local, traditional architecture, where people can do agricultural work as well as breed livestock. “When you take a step in such a direction, you save these people [refugees] from container cities and shelters,” he said, adding that if necessary, there might also be an organized industrial site and vocational training for refugees in that respect. The president also indicated that if such a project is realized, then the initial 20-mile zone that was planned might be expanded to 30-40 miles. He added that he has called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take the lead on such a project.
Noting that such a place will be somewhere that people will come to find peace, Erdoğan said that to provide that peaceful environment, coalition forces would have to take necessary measures to ensure security.
“I’ll be pursuing this project,” Erdoğan said, indicating his determination to make it real and the importance of the project itself. A 20-mile-deep safe zone between the northern Syrian towns of Jarablus and al-Rai has been mentioned several times since 2012 by Erdoğan, who has maintained that the terror-free safe zone to be established in Syria’s north must be based on the country’s territorial integrity. However, the plan did not come to fruition at the time. The details of the safe zone need to be ironed out, yet, one thing is clear: Turkey is firmly against the presence of the YPG in the region.
People of Manbij call for Turkey to intervene in YPG occupation
As far as the situation in Manbij is concerned, Erdoğan said the U.S. is yet to fulfill a promise made over the province.
“As we’ve said before, that region belongs to Arabs (80-85 percent). The region has nothing to do with the occupiers [the YPG],” the president said, adding that Syrians living under occupation demand a Turkish intervention.
“Syrian people call for us. Manbij tribes call us. They say ‘come and save us,'” Erdoğan said, noting that Turkey is only fulfilling these demands. “However, neither the U.S. nor France, the U.K., or Germany is invited to the region [unlike Turkey],” he added.
In order to prevent the PKK and its extensions such as the YPG from tightening its grip in northeast Syria and disrupting peace efforts in the region, Turkey aims to accelerate the Manbij process that was launched in June with the U.S.
As part of the deal, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to work on the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij. The aim of the Manbij deal is to ensure security and stability in the province by eliminating YPG terrorists who currently control the region in northern Syria and ultimately handing the administration of the province to a body consisting of local people.
France has no place in Eastern Mediterranean
Regarding developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he talked with U.S. President Donald Trump on the issue and reminded him that he does not have the right to intervene.
“In the bilateral meeting, I told him: ‘Look, you cannot talk on the Cyprus issue. You have nothing to do with Cyprus. Here, I can talk, Greece can talk, the U.K. can talk, the EU can talk, but you cannot talk’,” the president said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey used its guarantor rights to intervene on the island after a far-right Greek Cypriot military coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the island with Greece.
The coup followed decade-long inter-ethnic violence and terrorism targeting Turkish Cypriots, who were forced to live in enclaves when Greek Cypriots unilaterally changed the constitution in 1963 and stripped the island’s Turks of their political rights.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), established in 1983 on the northern one-third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot Administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot Administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, stating that the exclusive economic zone unilaterally declared by Nicosia violates part of Turkey’s shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Saying that unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural resources, Turkey has ramped up efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Khashoggi case still on Turkey’s agenda
Asked about the slain Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, Erdoğan said although no one talks about these issues, the international community cannot simply move on by forgetting all that has happened.
“We need to show that this issue is still on our agenda,” Erdoğan said, adding that he is aware that the Saudi crown prince was not present in the room where he delivered his speech since he left either during or before his speech.
“There is a report prepared specifically for this issue. If this issue is still not resolved by the U.N. General Assembly, I’ll bring it up once again,” he added.
Last week, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said evidence suggests Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials were liable for Khashoggi’s murder.
Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince and a Washington Post columnist, was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018 by a team of 15 consisting of Saudi officials who arrived in Turkey for his murder and a cover-up team also in charge of dismembering his body.
MORSI’S DEATH NEITHER FIRST NOR LAST
On the death of Egypt’s only democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, Erdoğan said the next generations should know how Muslim leaders have been treated “since this is neither the first nor the last.”
Morsi, 67, died after collapsing in court at Cairo’s Tora Prison complex. He had been in prison undergoing multiple trials since the military led by then-Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ousted him in July 2013 and launched a massive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
The death of Morsi on June 17 has caused massive backlash from the international community as it was widely speculated that his death was the result of mistreatment rather than natural causes.
Criticizing el-Sissi’s invitation to the summit, Erdoğan said this situation shows the “hypocrisy” of the EU and the West since they are welcoming a man who favors things that are against human rights that the West so willingly supports, like the death penalty.
‘Deal of the century’ not acceptable for Turkey
Regarding the so called “deal of the century,” Erdoğan said that Turkey’s stance on the issue is quite clear as they have reiterated numerous times that “Palestine’s lands cannot be sold.”
“Whatever our stance regarding the Jerusalem was back in the U.N., it will be same on this issue as well. We would not allow such a thing to happen,” he said.
Back in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he was moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian leaders accused Trump of sowing instability by overturning decades of U.S. policy. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized.
Most foreign nations have avoided locating embassies there for fear of prejudging peace talks on the city’s final status. Yet, Israel has been trying to convince nations to transfer their missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Still, so far, only the U.S. and Guatemala have moved their embassies, although some states like Moldova also announced that they are seriously thinking about making such a move.
At that time, Turkey and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) brought the issue into the international community’s agenda. As a result, most U.N. countries went against the decision, leaving the U.S. alone in its cause.
The terms of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” a U.S.-back channel plan for peace between the Palestinians and Israel, remain vague.
But according to recent speculations, Palestinian refugees will be asked to concede their right to return to historical Palestine, from which they were driven from in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel, which Turkey strongly opposes to.