Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Turkey Conditions Participation in Raqqa Operations with Exclusion of Kurds | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Jarablus as it is pictured from the Turkish town of Karkamis, in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Ankara– Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his nation is willing to assist the U.S.-led operations to liberate Raqqa from ISIS, but only as part of a coalition and if Kurdish forces are not involved.

“Our foreign minister and military authorities are in talks with the United States discussing the matter of Raqqa. We shared with them our conditions,” Erdogan told reporters on his plane returning from New York, where he participated in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) sessions.

Erdogan said that taking a joint step is important for Turkey if the U.S. does not include the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the operations.

“Turkey will not act unilaterally to liberate Raqqa,” he said. “We will get involved in actions taken by the coalition forces,” referring to the U.S.-led global coalition fighting ISIS.

Turkey directed most of its energy in the on-going Syrian war on ousting Bashar al-Assad instead of fighting ISIS.

Erdogan said Turkey had exhibited the most effective struggle in its war on ISIS despite the allegations.

Last week, senior U.S. military officials announced they were considering arming Syrian Kurdish fighters and acknowledged the difficulty of balancing this with the relationship with Ankara.

For that, Erdogan said he asked U.S. Vice President Joe Biden about weapons shipments to Kurds. But the U.S. official said he was not aware of any such shipments.

Diplomats told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Kurdish fighters have become one of two contentious issues between Ankara and Washington; the second being the extradition of Fethullah Gulen who Erdogan accuses of being responsible for the failed coup attempt in July.

They believe that Turkey is trying to present itself as an effective alternative in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa by adopting a similar method to the “Euphrates Shield” operation carried out in Jarablus.

Diplomats believe that Turkey aims to secure the area of 5,000 Km but they confirmed that Washington and international allies will not accept this situation.

Erdogan had earlier suggested the formation of a safe zone in a 90 to 95-kilometer corridor with a depth of 40 to 45 kilometers across the Syrian border.

He added: “Putin did not object when I mentioned it. What’s important is support from all 65 members of the coalition. Our Foreign Ministry officials will work to secure this. Once the funds arrive, we can immediately launch the building projects.”

Speaking about “Euphrates Shield,” Erdogan said that Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters continued to make progress against ISIS and are continuing towards al-Bab town, ISIS’ stronghold in Aleppo northern countryside.

During an interview with France 24, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara wants to establish a no-fly zone in Syria. He said that Turkey wants to send troops 45 Km into Syrian territory in order to reach Manbij and form a safe zone.

The foreign minister pointed that any attack on Raqqa is against ISIS, not the city itself. He stressed that Turkey has no problems with the Syrian people and supports the moderate armed opposition.

Talking about the attack on the U.N. humanitarian aid convoy and blaming the Syrian regime for the attack, Cavusoglu called for an independent investigation into the incident.