BY İBRAHIM ALTAY
Turkey wants Russia and Iran to back its fight against terrorist groups in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday, specifically underlining the United States’ continued support of the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG in the region.
Speaking to members of the Turkish press on his way back from Iran where he attended a trilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi in the capital Tehran for the seventh summit in the Astana format to discuss the recent developments in Syria, Erdoğan said that Turkey, Russia and Iran as three guarantor countries under the format of the Astana Peace Process have some differences in their opinions on the issue of the Syria crisis but all three countries have a common aim, which is the fight against terrorism.
“We inevitably unite against the PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist organizations on the issue of terrorism. Moreover, it is the problem that causes the most damage to the Syrian regime. Currently, the terrorist organization absorbs and exploits oil wells, especially in the east of the Euphrates; after that, it sells to the regime as well,” he said, referring to the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian branch, the YPG – which is backed by the United States.
Erdoğan reiterated that: “The United States has carried thousands of trucks of weapons, ammunition and equipment to terrorist organizations there, including during the previous presidents. This is still going on. Even the coalition forces continue their support in the same way.”
He noted that he conveyed Turkey’s concerns on this issue to U.S. President Joe Biden by saying: “Look, you are sending all these trucks here. You are giving this support to all terrorist organizations here. After that, you say ‘we are together in the fight against terrorism, we are together in NATO.’ How are we together? We have to work on these issues constantly.”
Regarding a new possible cross-border operation against the YPG, Erdoğan said that a new operation will continue to be on Turkey’s agenda as long as its national security concerns are not resolved.
“On the other hand, you see that the American staff there train the members of the terrorist organization. During this training, they are waving the flag of the regime there,” he said.
Ankara maintains its sensitivity in all developments in the east of the Euphrates, Idlib and Afrin, Erdoğan said and added that Turkey wants Russia and Iran to stand by it in its fight against terrorist organizations 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the border.
“Here they should give us the necessary support. We have expressed this here again both to Mr. Putin and to Mr. Raisi. Both of them already emphasized these issues in their statements. I think that we do not think separately about PKK/YPG/PYD issues.”
The gathering comes after Erdoğan recently warned that Turkey plans to launch a new operation in northern Syria against the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian branch, the YPG, which threatens Turkey’s national security and border security.
Erdoğan has said that since the United States and Russia have failed to live up to their commitments to provide a safe zone along the border region, Turkey is ready to mount an operation to protect the nation and locals in northern Syria from the PKK/YPG.
In October 2019, Russia committed to removing the terrorist group from Tal Rifaat and Manbij after reaching an agreement with Turkey during Operation Peace Spring. Moscow also promised that the terrorists would be pulled back 30 kilometers from the border on the M4 highway and in the area outside the Operation Peace Spring zone.
The operation is part of Turkey’s plans to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that would encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
The YPG controls large parts of northern Syria and is regarded by Washington as an important ally against Daesh despite its NATO ally Turkey’s major security concerns and warnings.
Turkish-backed operations in previous years have ousted the YPG and Daesh terrorists from the northwestern enclave of Afrin and a series of border towns further east. Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful counterterrorism operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).
It has also supported the Syrian opposition against Bashar Assad’s regime. Iran and Russia are also heavily involved in Syria’s conflict, but support, rather than oppose, Assad.
Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey supports Syria’s territorial integrity but faces issues in the region including YPG terrorists near the Turkish border.
“Because there are constant attacks on our borders from there. There, our soldiers were martyred, our people were killed. Not only Turkish citizens but also in Idlib and other regions people were killed. We need to share all these with the world and tell them about them.”
The Astana process agreed on the decision that the United States must withdraw from the east of Euphrates, Erdoğan said and added: “The United States has to leave the area east of the Euphrates at once. This is the finding that came out of the Astana process. They say that the U.S. should withdraw its troops from the east of the Euphrates. Now, a result that will emerge from here is also the expectation of Turkey. Because it is the U.S. that feeds the terrorist organizations there. Since the U.S. is feeding terrorist organizations, and we are also fighting with these terrorist organizations, our job will be easier when it withdraws from there or if it does not feed these terrorist organizations.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi gathered in Iran’s capital Tehran for the seventh summit in the Astana format to discuss the recent developments in Syria, the fight against the terrorist groups, particularly the PKK, its Syrian branch YPG and Daesh, which pose a threat to the regional security, the humanitarian situation and the voluntarily return of the Syrians to their homes.
The Astana peace process was launched in January 2017 at the initiative of Turkey, Russia and Iran to establish a cease-fire and bring conflict processes under control in Syria. The Astana initiative continues to be used as a platform where political and humanitarian issues are discussed.
Notably, it was Erdoğan’s first visit to Tehran since the formation of the new government in Tehran last year. Putin was also on his first international trip beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union since the start of the Ukraine war.
The summit also enabled Erdoğan to hold his first meeting with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Erdoğan became the first NATO leader to meet face-to-face with Putin since the bloc last month declared Russia the “most significant” threat as NATO leaders endorsed a new Strategic Concept for the military alliance.
The summit came days after U.S. President Joe Biden visited the Middle East for the first time since taking office, with stops in Iran’s regional foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.