By Sorwar Alam and Sibel Ugurlu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday called on the government of Iran and Russia to fulfill their responsibilities as guarantor states in Syria.
“Iran and Russia should fulfill the responsibilities [as guarantor states] in Syria,” Cavusoglu said in remarks made at Anadolu Agency Editors’ Desk in Ankara.
His comment came in a reaction to recent attack of Bashar al-Assad regime on moderate opposition groups in northwestern Idlib city.
He noted that the Syrian regime forces were targeting the moderate opposition groups “on the pretext of fighting Al-Nusra terrorist group”.
“If you are the guarantors -- yes you are -- you should stop the regime. It's not just a simple airstrike. The regime is moving in Idlib. The intent here is different.”
Cavusoglu warned that such a move would undermine the peace process in Syria.
He underlined that Turkey is the guarantor of the moderate opposition.
The foreign minister added that it was not appropriate to bomb the whole city on the pretext that some terrorists are hiding there.
Iranian, Russian envoys summoned
“If there is a terrorist organization there, these groups should be determined and their location should be determined. Careful operations should be carried out with intelligence from the ground or with the technology,” he added.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Ministry had summoned Russian and Iranian ambassadors following Bashar al-Assad regime’s attacks in Syrian city of Idlib.
Speaking about the upcoming summit on Syria in the Russian coastal city of Sochi later this month, Cavusoglu said the guarantor countries should decide who to join talks.
Sochi is the designated venue of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which is planned to be held on Jan. 29-30 with the participation of about 1,700 people.
Turkey is opposed to the presence of terrorist groups in the talks, which would undermine a political solution, Cavusoglu said.
“We do not think that it is possible, but we had said in advance that Turkey... will not join the process with YPG,” the foreign minister added.
The PKK/PYD and its military wing YPG are Syrian branches of the PKK terrorist network, which has waged war against Turkey for more than 30 years.
Despite Turkey’s objections, the U.S. has provided the PKK/PYD with arms, calling it an ally in the fight against Daesh, but ignoring its terrorist group status.
Syria's civil war
Cavusoglu rejected that PYD/YPG was the only representative of Kurdish population in Syria.
“Who designated the terrorist group as their representative? This may happen only when radical groups force them to submission.”
He called on to revive Geneva peace talks in which he said “nothing has been discussed so far.”
“We will hold a meeting of foreign ministers in Turkey after Sochi [talks]. We are trying to determine the date...”
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.
The foreign minister also underlined that the U.S. arming of PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing PYD/YPG and Washington's refusal to extradite Fetullah Gulen, head of Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) were the two major issues “poisoning” Turkey-U.S. relations.
“If the U.S. does not correct its mistakes, our relations may face more damage.”
FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup attempt on July 15, 2016, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.
Cavusoglu also touched upon the recent developments in Turkey-EU relations. “Turkey does not have patience [to wait for] EU membership for another 50 years,” said Cavusoglu.
"We should not be waiting for another 50 years [for EU membership]," he added.
Turkey had applied for the EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.
However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration in the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.
To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.
As of May 2016, 16 chapters had been opened and one concluded. However, in December 2016, the member states said no new chapters will be opened.
The foreign minister said that "new chapter" for Turkey’s accession to the bloc should be opened. He also called on the EU to approve visa-free regime for Turkish nationals as part of a Turkey-EU deal in 2016.
“We have no problem with the EU or any states in Europe. But some statements against Turkey came from some European countries during their election period. We only express our reaction to their anti-Turkey rhetoric,” he added.
Cavusoglu said he has seen “some positive approach” from the EU in recent months.
“Now we can minimize our disputes. We need a positive atmosphere. We want it, Turks in Germany wants it. But we will not bow to unjust criticism, Europe has already understood it,” he noted.
Austria has also showed "positive approach" towards Turkey following elections.
He noted that Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl will visit Turkey on Jan. 25 to discuss bilateral relations.
On the ongoing dispute between Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, Cavusolgu said Turkey could take a mediation role to normalize relations between the parties.
“There are some requests [to Turkey] to mediate [between Erbil and Baghdad]. I will go to Baghdad on Jan. 21. We will discuss this in addition to the bilateral issues,” he said.
Baghdad and Erbil have been experiencing strained relations following an illegitimate referendum of independence in KRG on Sept. 25 last year.
Cavusoglu also underlined that no islets on Aegean Sea were given to Greece during ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party's period.
Turkey had no designs on Greece’s territorial integrity and similarly Greece respected Turkey’s territorial integrity, Cavusoglu said.
He said updating 1923 Treaty of Lausanne would not mean to gain more lands from Greece and added that the only conflict on that issue was “Aegean islets and islands.”
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne guarantees the religious freedoms of the Muslim minority in Greece.
“We have a good friendship with Greece and we are neighbors…. We are cooperating on many fields…We have disagreements as well, but we are trying to eliminate them via dialogue.”