Turkey wants the Syrian regime’s compliance with a cease-fire in northwestern Idlib province, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said in an interview with CNN Turk.
“We do not aim for a face-off with Russia. This is out of question. We have done everything in our power to prevent this from happening, and we will continue to do so. The most important thing now is for the regime to comply with the cease-fire,” Akar said Thursday night.
He said Turkey has continued its relations with all parties in a "transparent and principled" way.
Referring to a possible Idlib operation by Turkey, Akar said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "gave orders and set targets" on the issue.
"We have done the necessary planning. We have our A, B and C plan to put into action when necessary.”
He stressed that Turkey’s stance on the Idlib issue "has not changed" and it has been fulfilling its responsibilities on the matter, adding Turkey expects its counterparts to do the same.
On Turkey’s expectations regarding Idlib, Akar said: “The most important issues are ensuring a stable cease-fire and stopping the migration, thus relieving the public."
He noted that there is a humanitarian crisis in Idlib along with the military issues, adding the regime has been continuing its "ruthless attacks" even on hospitals.
"Our expectations are clear. Our stance has not changed,” he said.
Signaling that their talks with Russia are ongoing, Akar said: “The regime accuses people living in Idlib of being terrorists. The regime murders everyone who opposes it through airstrikes, ground attacks and barrel bombs. This is a massacre. Turkey has stood with innocent people throughout its history, and this will not change. We will maintain our presence there and expect all parties to comply with the Sochi agreement.”
Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached a deal on Oct. 22 last year in Russia's Black Sea resort town of Sochi under which YPG/PKK terrorists would pull back 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of Turkey’s border with Syria within 150 hours and security forces from Turkey and Russia would mount joint patrols there.
Akar reminded that regime forces "should withdraw" behind Turkey’s 12 observation points in Syria.
"We need to remind about the fifth article of the Astana agreement. This article suggests that all parties will take necessary precautions to reduce tensions in Idlib de-escalation zone. Under this, we say that we will send our forces there and maintain the cease-fire, by force, if necessary. Whoever violates the cease-fire will be our target.”
Akar also said: "It is out of question" for Turkey to leave the observation points.
Regarding migration, Akar said there are currently 4 million Syrians living in Turkey, noting that if tensions in Idlib rise, migration rates will also increase and Turkey would not be able to afford additional migration.
Emphasizing that the migration wave will impact the EU and U.S., Akar said: “We are not looking out for our interests only. Starting with our Syrian brothers, the interests and welfare of the region, Europe and the U.S. are at stake. There might be unwanted consequences. We want this to be understood.”
Possible operations on Idlib
Responding to a question on Russian control over Syria's airspace -- which would make a possible operation harder -- Akar said it will be resolved with Russia’s non-interference, and negotiations for this are also ongoing.
He said Russian and Turkish forces in the region exchange information, and are in a "healthy dialogue".
No one should try to push us out
Speaking on the U.S. support in Idlib, Akar said many countries are aware of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib and that Turkey’s activities are respected. He added that "active support" is just as important as words.
“They [the U.S.] previously sent us air defense batteries. Our country is threatened through air strikes and missiles. So there might be Patriot [missile] support. NATO’s secretary-general also made comments on the issue. [Jens] Stoltenberg is closely watching the situation, and there might be further action and plans coming from their side.
“Turkey is not going through an axis shift. It is simply conducting some negotiations to preserve our nation’s interests. No one should try to push us out. We are in NATO, and we will be in NATO. Also, nothing has changed in our EU efforts. We do what is necessary in this issue, but the problems are being created by Europe.”
Regarding the S-400s supplied by Russia, Akar said: “The setup and training sessions are underway. Our activities will continue as planned. No one should doubt this. Period.”
The setups and training are planned to be completed this spring, Akar added.
* Writing by Firdevs Bulut and Jeyhun AliyevAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.