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Turkey’s Erdogan renews case for Syria operation at Tehran talks

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President Erdogan says Turkey wants more help from Russia and Iran, but can fight ‘terrorist’ organisations without needing any support.

Tehran, Iran – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed warnings that Ankara could launch a new military operation in northern Syria, as he met his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Tehran.

Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi held a summit on Syria in the Iranian capital on Tuesday to resolve differences.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have in recent years held talks as part of the so-called “Astana peace process” to end more than 11 years of conflict in the Middle Eastern country.

Erdogan has said in recent months that he will soon launch a military operation targeting Kurdish fighters that Turkey considers “terrorists” in the cities of Tal Rifaat and Manbij. Located west of the Euphrates River, the cities are controlled by the Syrian Kurdish armed group, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara considers the YPG a “terrorist” group and says it is linked to domestic armed fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has also designated as a “terrorist” organisation. The PKK has waged an armed uprising against Turkey since 1984, and tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.

The Turkish government has accused the YPG of attacking Turkish security forces in Syria.

Turkey wants more help from Russia and Iran but is capable of continuing its fight against “terrorist” organisations in Syria without needing any support, Erdogan said on Tuesday, reiterating his plan to establish a 30km (18.5 miles) so-called “safe zone” from Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

“You say you understand Turkey’s concerns and we thank you for this,” Erdogan said, addressing Putin and Raisi. “But words alone are not enough.”

Earlier, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against such an operation and the Kremlin has previously shown opposition to a new Turkish incursion.

Both Putin and Raisi voiced their support for the Astana format as effective in reducing violence and raising hopes for a diplomatic solution in Syria. They expressed opposition to foreign intervention and the theft of the country’s oil and resources – a jab aimed at the United States.

“We emphasised that the Syrian government must have control over all areas in the country. Therefore there is no justification for the presence of Americans east of Euphrates and they must exit that area,” Raisi told a press conference following the summit.

All three leaders said they wish to press on with trying to resolve issues in Syria through dialogue and expressed their wish to help millions of displaced Syrian citizens, many of whom have migrated to Turkey.

“Syria’s future must be determined by Syrians themselves and without any dictation from the outside,” Putin said during the press conference, in words that were also echoed by Raisi.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claps as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi concludes his speech during their joint press briefing at the Saadabad Palace, in Tehran.
Turkey wants more help from Russia and Iran but is capable of continuing its fight against “terrorist” organisations in Syria without needing any support, Erdogan said [Vahid Salemi/AP Photo]

Joint statement

The three leaders, who had also held bilateral talks on Tuesday prior to the summit, then released a joint statement that contained their agreements on Syria’s future.

In the statement, they “expressed their determination to continue working together to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations”.

However, they also “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism” and committed themselves to maintaining Syria’s sovereignty.

They further agreed that calm must be maintained in the “de-escalation” area previously negotiated in and around Idlib.

Coming shortly after the UN extended cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria for six months, the leaders called on the UN and other stakeholders to increase their assistance “without discrimination, politicisation, and preconditions”.

The three presidents also condemned Israeli military attacks, including on civilian infrastructure in Syria, and considered it as “violating international law” and destabilising the region.

They announced that the next Astana format trilateral meeting will take place in Russia before the end of 2022.

The summit came as Syria’s state-run SANA agency reported that the country’s foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, arrived in Tehran late on Tuesday. Mekdad is scheduled to have a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Wednesday.

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