As one of the most influential powers in the region, Turkey's assistance must be sought in resolving regional matters, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday. In a compelling speech at the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) group meeting in Parliament, President Erdoğan said "everyone should understand any moves made without considering Turkey will not succeed." Erdoğan made the remarks, commenting upon a recent decision by the U.S. and six other nations to establish a commission on Syria which excludes Turkey and the Syrian regime.
On Monday and Tuesday, the president also made significant statements related to the priorities and issues of Turkish foreign policy. In separate speeches, Erdoğan included signals of rapprochement with the EU after a period of impasse, and criticism to U.S. policies in the region and with Turkey bilaterally. "Those who did not take on any responsibility in Syria are now working to establish an entity," Erdoğan said about the U.S.' move that also includes France, Germany, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the U.K.
"We have to establish the proper entity here. The U.S. is organizing what they call a 'small group.' So I made a joke [to German Chancellor Angela Merkel] saying we will hold a meeting with an even 'smaller group' of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France," he said, referring to the quartet meeting that is expected to take place in Istanbul in mid-October.
He added that it is critical for Turkey to be at the table when decisions are made regarding the region.
"If you are on the field, then you have to be at the table and what you say must count," he emphasized.
Erdoğan also underlined that Turkey has made strategic decisions on Syria to avoid future risks.
The U.S. policy on Syria has been a matter of dispute between Washington and Ankara, causing severe damage to relations between the two NATO allies. Ankara has seen the U.S.' steps in Syria as moves that would threaten Turkey's national security and also fuel instability in the region.
Washington has supported the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate, the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), under the pretext of fight against Daesh. Washington does so despite the YPG's organic links with the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU and Turkey.
With the support of the U.S., the YPG had been working to realize its aim of establishing an autonomous entity in northern Syria. However, with Turkey's successful Operation Olive Branch on the YPG-held Afrin province, the group's plan ultimately failed.
"We can only work with countries once they give up on their support for groups that are attempting to establish a terror corridor along Turkey's borders," Erdoğan said.
He added that the U.S. has provided 19,000 truck-loads of weaponry and military equipment to the YPG, which he said will ultimately be used against Turkey.
"Aren't you strategic partners with us? We asked to purchase weapons from you and you rejected, but you give this terrorist group weapons for free. How do you explain this to the world? It is not possible to reach any goal with this imperialist mentality," the president added.
He also said on Monday that "another problematic area for us is our relations with the U.S. We are deeply saddened by the fact that the current administration in the U.S. is taking aim at our country in a manner that defies logic, politics and the strategic depth of our long-standing relations as strategic partners."
Erdoğan said yesterday that Turkey does not have any claim on the rights or interests of any other country.
"But, we will never allow anyone to violate our rights, laws and interests," he added.
Ankara has said steps taken in the Mediterranean region and along its borders, particularly northern Syria and Iraq must not pose threats to its interests and national security.
"This is also valid for the Cyprus issue and in the Aegean," the president stated.
Turkey has repeatedly warned the Greek Cypriot administration about its unilateral hydrocarbon-related research in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources around the area.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power. In 2017, after two years of negotiations, the latest attempt to reunify the long-divided Mediterranean island ended in failure.
Last year on Sept. 25, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq held an independence referendum, which had angered Ankara. Tensions rose in the region when Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted to secede.
The referendum faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors, including Iraq's neighbors - Turkey and Iran.
"Just as we've liberated Jarablus, al-Rai, and al-Bab from Daesh in Syria [with Operation Euphrates Shield], if need be we won't shy away from such steps in Iraq," Erdoğan had said at the time, expressing Turkey's resolute stance against the establishment of an independent KRG state along its borders.
IDLIB DEAL PREVENTED A MASSACRE, REFUGEE WAVE
Commenting on the recently established deal with Moscow on northwestern Syria's Idlib province, Erdoğan said the agreement and efforts to ease the conflict between the Bashar Assad regime and the opposition has prevented a massacre of civilians and also a refugee wave toward Turkey.
The president said Turkey will continue to be the voice of the moderate opposition and work for a solution for their future, however, this doesn't mean Ankara will be in talks with the regime.
He added that Turkey's diplomatic efforts for Idlib was appreciated during his one-on-one meetings with 14 world leaders who were attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York last week.
Erdoğan attended the General Assembly, where he also made a speech. Following the meeting, the Turkish president paid a three-day official visit to Germany, in a move to further strengthen the currently normalizing relations with Berlin and the EU.
According to the Idlib deal, a 15-to-20-kilometer-wide area will be established as a demilitarized zone as of Oct. 15. Furthermore, the radical groups will also be pushed out and the zone will be free of heavy weaponry.
"It is a historical success for us that we have moved from calculations to carry the Syrian civil war into our country to securing the future of Syrian people in their own land," Erdoğan said.
He added also that Turkey will strengthen its troops positioned in Idlib's monitoring posts and also work with Russia against radical groups.
Turkey established 12 observation points around Idlib to monitor and sustain the current cease-fire agreement for the de-escalation zones, deliver humanitarian aid and ensure the secure return of displaced people. This was done as part of the trilateral agreement reached on Syria with Russia and Iran in what has been called the Astana talks.
TURKEY WANTS STRONG TIES WITH EU, U.S.
"Just like the U.S., we want to enliven and strengthen our relations with the European Union," Erdoğan said.
He added that they communicated with both U.S. and EU officials that Turkey's good relations with other countries and international organizations were "not alternative to ties with the U.S. or the EU, but are rather complimentary."
"This is how we will move forward and we see positive signals from our counterparts that our country's approach is now being better understood," the president said, emphasizing that it is Turkey's desire to see relations moving to a better position in the future.
"In recent years, our relations with the EU and some European countries went through a tense period due to unjust accusations against us. Some European countries used anti-Turkey rhetoric for domestic politics. We are now leaving this period behind us," Erdoğan also said on Monday in his speech.