Türkiye hopes that the Black Sea grain deal, which is set to expire on March 18, will be extended, the country's defense minister said on Sunday.
"Both sides (Russia and Ukraine) have a positive attitude and we believe that it will be extended," Hulusi Akar told Anadolu’s Editors’ Desk held in the quake-hit southern Hatay province.
He reiterated Türkiye's efforts to ensure that the landmark Istanbul deal continues to be implemented and said nearly 24 million tons of grain were delivered to those in need via the deal.
Last July, Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement in Istanbul to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports which were paused after the Russia-Ukraine war began in February 2022.
Thanks to Turkish efforts, the grain deal was extended for another 120 days, starting on Nov. 19.
Voluntarily return of Syrians
Akar said around 56,000 Syrians in Türkiye have returned to their home country across the border since the Feb. 6 earthquakes, which were centered in Türkiye's southern region and caused devastation in northern Syria.
He also rebuffed claims that there has been an influx of Syrian refugees to Türkiye via its southern border. Many Syrian citizens living in Türkiye are returning to their home country after their properties were destroyed and their relatives died in the quakes.
Also, stressing the importance of the safety and security of the citizens near the country's southern border, Akar said Ankara has been continuing its fight against the terrorist organization.
We have been carrying out cross-border operations "without any interruption," he said, adding that the PKK terrorist organization carried out eight attacks after the quakes, and "we immediately retaliated, we neutralized 53 terrorists."
About the US high-level officers' visits to regions occupied by the YPG terror group in northern Syria, he said: "YPG is really a terrorist organization."
He underlined that "it is completely against the truth to portray this terrorist organization as innocent in any way. YPG is the same as the PKK terrorist organization. We expect especially our friends, and allies to stop resisting and see, and understand the truth," said Akar.
In its almost 40-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.
The YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK terror group. US support for the YPG has long strained relations between Ankara and Washington.
Over 13.5 million people in Türkiye have been affected by the powerful tremors that rocked 11 provinces – Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, Malatya, Adana, Diyarbakir, Kilis, Osmaniye, Sanliurfa, and Elazig.
More than 47,900 people were killed in Türkiye by the magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 quakes, according to official figures.
F-16 talks with US
On the F-16 purchase, Akar said: "The talks with the US Department of Defense on the modernization and supply of the F16 have reached a positive point. We also know that this was backed by the White House."
He went on to say Türkiye expects Congress to take a "sensible decision" on this issue.
We want everyone to know that Ankara is not desperate about the purchase of F-16s from the US, Akar said, adding: "We have other options."
Türkiye made a request to Washington in 2021 for 40 F-16 jets and modernization kits. The State Department informally notified Congress of the potential sale.
Ankara maintains that the jets would strengthen not only Türkiye but also NATO.
Talk with Syria
Speaking about the talks with Syria, Akar said Ankara respects Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Türkiye's aim is to fight against terrorism to ensure the safety of the citizens, he added.
For the first time in 11 years, a meeting was held last December in Moscow with the participation of the Turkish, Russian, and Syrian defense ministers, he said, adding: "We hope meetings with Syria will continue in different levels or formats. We long for solving the problems through negotiations."
Additionally, "we contribute to the preparation of the environment for the Syrians in Türkiye to return to their homes voluntarily, and safely," once the environment improves and normalizes in Syria, Akar added.
Sweden, Finland’s NATO membership bids
On Sweden and Finland's NATO bids, Akar said: "We are in no way opposed to NATO's open door policy. We are not against the membership of Sweden and Finland. But we have been fighting terrorism for 40 years. We expect everyone to show some sensitivity and pay attention to this struggle, even if not as much as we do."
Reminding Sweden and Finland of pledges laid out on the trilateral memorandum signed last June for NATO bids, Akar said Ankara expects them to fulfill their responsibilities and commitments.
On the burning of a copy of the Quran in Sweden, Akar said: "We expect them to take measures. We strongly condemn it and we reject it."
The negotiations were suspended due to Quran-burning provocations, but recently a meeting was held in Brussels at the technical level, he said, adding Ankara expects "the continuation of the work with these meetings and the fulfillment of the commitments of Finland and Sweden as soon as possible."
Ankara Athens relations
On recent relations between Ankara and Athens, Akar said following the quakes, "we had a number of positive talks and dialogues with our allies, friends, and neighbors."
As it is known, "we have problems with Greece", Akar said, reiterating his country's readiness to open a channel for dialogue to solve the problems with Greece "peacefully."
"We are in favor of solving these problems with peaceful ways and methods by negotiating in accordance with the spirit of alliance and good neighborly relations," he said.Anadolu 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.