Turkish PM Yıldırım slams US, says holding business with terrorists ‘humiliating’

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has said on Thursday that the US cooperation with “terrorist organisations” is self-humiliating for Washington. According to report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) on Thursday, PM Yıldırım said in Ankara that “It is really very humiliating for America to hold business with terror organizations, and take actions it planned with a terror organization in the region.”

Referring to the US, Yıldırım said the country, which Turkey has worked together with for many years in the region and called it “ally” in NATO, is clinging to terror groups. “It is a sad and a dire situation,” he said.

Yıldırım has also stated that it is “unacceptable” that such country, instead of protecting the borders of NATO, is supporting the terror establishments. “We will not tolerate any terror establishment along our 1,350-kilometer-long (839 miles) southern border from Iran to the Mediterranean sea, Iraq, Syria, Euphrates river’s east or west,” said Yıldırım.

Yıldırım said “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region is continuing as planned and added that more than 300 terrorists have been killed so far as part of the operation. Claiming that the operation is also preventing the passage of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists to Europe through Mediterranean sea, Yıldırım stated that “Therefore, we actually do not only provide the regional security but also [taking care of] Europe’s security.”

TURKISH GOVERNMENT COOL ON US OFFER OF ‘SAFE ZONES’ 

Meanwhile, Washington’s proposal for the creation of a “security zone” along Turkey’s 911-kilometer border with Syria has received a cool reply from Ankara, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urging the US to first take steps to “re-build trust” between the two allies before discussing such military matters. “Until trust between the two countries has been re-established it would not be appropriate to discuss such issues,” Çavuşoğlu told pro-government Hürriyet daily on Thursday.

“Our trust with the US has been damaged. It’s not like we can say ‘a proposal has been made so we will accept it.’ These are serious issues. Trust should be re-built before we can talk about these details,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu’s remarks came two days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested building a 30-kilometer deep “security zone” along the Syrian border with Turkey at a meeting with Çavuşoğlu in Paris. The proposal followed the Turkish Armed Forces’ launching of “Operation Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 in a bid to clear Syria’s Afrin province of militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US has partnered with in the fight against the ISIL. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group directly linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“We are not certain what exactly the US objective is. First of all we need to fix this skeptical environment,” Çavuşoğlu added. “The US needs to stop delivering weapons to the YPG. It needs to push the YPG to withdrawing from Manbij if it wants to re-build confidence with Turkey … We have to see all these commitments fulfilled,” Çavuşoğlu said.

During Paris meeting, both Çavuşoğlu and Tillerson underlined that they do not want to see Turkish and American forces pitted against each other, particularly in Manbij region of Syria, where a number of US troops are deployed along with YPG elements.

At a press conference in Istanbul, Çavuşoğlu touched on Turkey’s expectations from the US over its ties with the YPG. “Tillerson told me that they were considering establishing a 10 km-deep security zone along the 911-kilometer Turkey-Syria border but they later decided to expand it to 30 km-deep because rockets were fired from Syria within that range,” he said. Turkey had suggested building a “security zone” inside Syria years ago, the foreign minister said, adding that the proposals of the two countries may not necessarily mean the same thing.

At least 303 the outlawed PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants were killed since the start of the operation in Afrin region, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said Thursday.

The TSK also said it destroyed six targets used by the terrorists as shelters, ammunitions depots and weapon emplacements during airstrikes, adding that the fighter jets used in the air operations safely returned to their bases of operation. The Turkish military reiterated that it is exercising extreme caution to prevent civilians and the innocent from getting hurt. The anti-terror operation in Afrin continues successfully as planned, the TSK said.

Also on Thursday, President Erdoğan visited a military command center in southern Hatay province as the ongoing operation in northern Syria entered its sixth day. Erdoğan was accompanied by National Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, Second Army Command Commander Lt. Gen. İsmail Metin Temel, Deputy PM Bekir Bozdağ and Hatay Governor Erdal Ata.

GERMANY DECIDES TO FREEZE TANKS UPGRADE FOR TURKISH MILITARY

On the other hand, Germany’s caretaker government has said on Thursday that it has decided to put on hold any decision on upgrading German-made tanks in Turkey as requested by its NATO ally Ankara, but Turkey has refuted any freeze.

Turkey’s use of the Leopard 2 tanks in its operation in northern Syria has fueled a debate about Berlin’s approval of arms exports, a domestically sensitive issue. A government spokesman said center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, had agreed Berlin would not decide on the Turkish request before both party blocs had sealed a new coalition deal.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in İstanbul on Thursday that a commission meeting on the issue was postponed but no cancellation or hold was on the agenda. Turkey expects support and solidarity from its ally Germany in its fight against terrorism, Çavuşoğlu said. “While we fight with terrorists, we expect support and solidarity from Germany,” Çavuşoğlu said.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday that Germany and France understand Turkey’s security concerns, but both European countries do not want to harm peace talks on Syria with a new military confrontation. Commenting on Turkey’s ongoing military operation in northwestern Syria, Gabriel urged all sides to take steps towards de-escalation.

“Together with France, we are trying to prevent further escalation, to make humanitarian access possible and to protect the civil population. That is the top priority,” he said in a press release and added that “Together with France, we are also striving to ensure that Turkey’s security interests are taken into consideration. However, as we still have a chance for political negotiations to achieve peace and stability in Syria, this should not be undermined by further military confrontation.”

He also urged for a debate within NATO on the recent developments in Syria. “I have requested from the NATO secretary general to hold consultations within NATO on the situation in Syria and in the northern part of that country,” he said.

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