Erdogan Boycotts US Ambassador as Visa Row Intensifies

Ankara – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced he would boycott US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass, holding him responsible for a US-Turkish row over the issuance of visas.
 
During his visit to Belgrade, Erdogan said Turkey no longer regarded ambassador John Bass as the US representative to the country, adding that the Turkish government would not receive him on his farewell tour before leaving Ankara in the coming days, following his appointment as ambassador to Kabul.
 
The dispute erupted last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the American consulate on suspicion of links to the group blamed for last year’s failed coup.
 
In response, the United States stopped issuing non-immigrant visas from its missions in Turkey, prompting Turkish missions in the United States to hit back by adopting the same measures against the US.
 
Speaking at a news conference with President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Erdogan said: “We have not agreed and are not agreeing to this ambassador making farewell visits with ministers, the parliament speaker and myself.”
 
“We do not see him as the representative of the United States in Turkey,” he continued.
 
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called on Washington to adopt a more rational attitude towards the visa crisis, describing the suspension of granting visas to the Turks for “security reasons” as a “blatant contradiction.”
 
Meanwhile, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul rejected earlier this week a request by the US Ambassador for a meeting, Turkish media outlets reported.
 
Commenting on his country’s decision to stop issuing non-immigrant visas for Turks, Bass said in a statement published at the embassy’s website: “The suspension allows us to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while we assess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel.”
 
He explained: “For the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.”
 
In March, a Turkish employee at the US consulate in the southern city of Adana was arrested on charges of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
 
Turkish economic officials warned that the suspension of visas between the United States and Turkey would damage bilateral trade, which amounts to $17.5 billion per year.
 
The president of the Turkish-American Business Council, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, said that the two states needed each other politically and economically, and “we want to solve the problems without their reflection on economic relations, but if it affects national security, no country can make concessions.”
 
In parallel, the Turkish authorities issued a decision to detain 70 officers, suspected of having links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement, after their arrest in Istanbul, Ankara, Kayseri, Izmir, Eskisehir and Yalova.
 
Those included 62 air force officers, four from the naval forces and four gendarmes.

Ankara Hopes US Would Reconsider Suspension of Visa Services to Turkish Citizens

Turkey

Turkey hoped on Monday that Washington would go back on its decision to suspend most visa services to Turkish citizens following a spat with Ankara.

The row erupted when a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul was arrested last week.

Turkey’s Justice Minister said on Monday that the decision to proceed with the case against the detained consulate worker was one for the Turkish judiciary to take.

“Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right. I hope the US will revise its decision in this light,” Abdulhamit Gul told A Haber television.

The American embassy in Ankara said that “recent events” forced the US government to reassess Turkey’s “commitment” to the security of US mission services and personnel in the country.

In order to minimize the number of visitors while the assessment is carried out, “effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” it said.

Non-immigrant visas are issued to all those traveling to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study. Immigrant visa services are only for those seeking to live in the US permanently.

Ankara responded by suspending “all visa services” for Americans in the US, saying the measures also apply to visas issued online and at the border.

In an apparent attempt to mock the US announcement, the Turkish embassy in Washington issued two statements that were almost word-for-word copies of that from the American embassy in Ankara.

The statements said concerns over US commitment to the security of Turkish diplomatic facilities and personnel necessitated the restrictions, but the fact that they only apply to Americans and also include visas issued at the border and online indicate the move is punitive rather than security-based.

The first statement from the Turkish embassy said the restrictions apply to “visas in passports” while the second replaced that wording with “sticker visas”. It was unclear if that meant that visas already stamped in passports would not be accepted.

Beyond its mention of “recent events”, the American embassy statement made no explicit mention of the arrest by Turkish authorities of a local Turkish staffer working at the US consulate in Istanbul.

The employee, Metin Topuz, was remanded in custody by an Istanbul court late Wednesday on accusations of links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The staffer has been formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government. Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that he allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe, 121 people involved in the attempted coup and hundreds of people using an encrypted mobile messaging application.

The US embassy on Thursday said it was “deeply disturbed” over the arrest and rejected the allegations against the employee as “wholly without merit”.

It also condemned leaks in the local press which it said came from Turkish government sources that were “seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law”.

But Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has defended the arrest, saying “there must be serious evidence” and pointing to a phone call made from the Istanbul consulate to a key suspect on the night of the coup.

Hamza Ulucay, a translator of the US Consulate in the southern province of Adana, was arrested in March for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

For Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington DC, the situation signifies the unfolding of an historic crisis in US-Turkey relations.

“The idea is that this step would convince the Turkish elites to persuade Erdogan to stop harassing US citizens in Turkey — I think Erdogan will do the opposite and escalate,” he told AFP.

The pro-government Yeni Safak daily described it as “a scandalous decision from the United States”.

Turkish officials had expressed hope of a new page in Ankara-Washington relations under President Donald Trump.

Turkey has pressed Washington for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Gulen, who denies any link to the coup bid — but the lack of movement on the issue has further strained ties.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 have been fired from government jobs as part of a state of emergency declared after the failed coup in Turkey.

Iran, Iraq and Turkey Seek Triple Military Alliance

Baqeri

London – Iran, Iraq and Turkey have agreed to create a triple military alliance as the first step towards growing cooperation in mutual defense and regional security.

The creation of the “military triangle” was highlighted yesterday in a report published by Fars News Agency, the principal news outlet for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

According to the report the idea of alliance was raised in the recent trip to Ankara by Iran’s Chief of Staff of Armed Forces General Muhammad Hussein Baqeri at the head of a 40-man delegation, during high-level meetings with Turkish leaders including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Baqeri’s visit was the first of its kind by the highest Islamic Republic military commander to a member-state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its historic importance was subsequently highlighted by the visit to Tehran of the Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar followed by President Erdogan himself. Within a few days of Baqeri’s visit to Ankara, his Iraqi counterpart Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi came to Tehran to discuss Baghdad’s role in the emerging alliance project.

According to sources, Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish senior commanders held a series of meetings to set out the rules for join staff conversation, exchange of military intelligence and targeted joint operations.

Since then, the three neighbors have held coordinated military exercises along their respective borders.
Initially, the composition of Baqeri’s team in his Ankara visit was kept confidential.

Now, however, Fars has revealed the names of some of those who accompanied the Chief of Staff in his historic visit. They included General Muhammad Pakpur, Commander of the Ground Forces of the IRGC, Gen. Qassem Rezai, Commander of the Border Forces and the deputy head of the regular army’s planning division. Gen. Rahim-Zadeh.

Also present in Baqeri’s team was Gen. Mehrabi, who heads the Khatam al-Anbia base, a conglomerate that runs the IRGC’s economic and business enterprises, indicating that the “triple alliance” may also include the sale of certain categories of weapons by Iran to Turkey and Iraq, as well as joint construction projects in border areas.

The presence in Gen. Baqeri’s team of Gen. Hassan Baqeri, in charge of the army’s training programs, indicated the intention to extend military cooperation into educational and academic domains.

The fact that Baqeri also met the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and Security Chief Hakan Fidan underlined the broader political dimensions of his high profile role in reshaping Iran’s defense and foreign policies.

The “triple alliance” also envisages cooperation in training of the security forces of the three neighbors.

In talks with his Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, Gen. Baqeri proposed the development of plans for academic level “joint action” in the field of defense and security. That could allow for an exchange of students seeking military careers at higher academic levels.

Such an exchange would enable Iranian trainee officers to get familiar with the military culture of NATO, something that was available to Iran before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. At the same time, the program would enable the military in Iraq and Turkey to obtain direct understanding of Iran’s military doctrine, mindset, methods and practices.

It is not clear how many trainee officers would be exchanged among the three members of the proposed alliance.

However, according to Gen. Baqeri the putative allies would also organize joint courses for trainee officers from all three countries. That would allow the gradual emergence of a new generation of officers who have studied together and thus know each other’s way of thinking more closely, fostering an esprit de corps that could strengthen neighborly ties.

According to Fars, it was the Kurdish secessionist referendum in Iraq that speeded up a process that had been “in gestation at thought level for some time”.

In an unusually frank statement, Gen. Baqeri has asserted that Iran, Iraq and Turkey will not allow Iraqi Kurds to secede.

Iran and Turkey have a long history of alliance treaties.

The first came in 1639 when the two neighbors divided Mesopotamia on the basis of the Qasr-e-Shirin Treaty, ending centuries of conflict and war over who controls what is now Iraq. That ended centuries of wars between the Ottoman Empire and Iran in which, at times, Iranians allied themselves with European powers against the Turks.

After the collapse of the Caliphate in Constantinople, Iran and Turkey went through a period of “national redefinition” and in 1933 concluded the Saadabad Pact which even envisaged the creation of joint military units.

That was interrupted in 1941 when the Allies, Great Britain and Russia, invaded and occupied Iran for almost five years.

In 1955 Iran and Turkey created a new alliance with Iraq. Known as the Baghdad Pact it also included the United Kingdom.

The Baghdad Pact collapsed in 1959 when the new Iraqi pro-Soviet regime of Col. Abdul-Karim Qassem denounced it. That forced Iran and Turkey to create a new alliance known as the Central Treat Organization (CENTO) with Pakistan added as a new member and the UK retaining the place it had in the Baghdad Pact. The United Sates was included as an associate member, emphasizing CENTO’s close ties to NATO.

Right now Iran, Iraq and Turkey have a number of major concerns.

The Kurdish secessionist bid is highlighted as a major threat. In reality, however, such a threat could be no more than marginal in military-security terms. More urgent is the need to fully cleanse the region from the remnants of ISIS and find a way out of the quagmire that is Syria.

Iran and Turkey have been on opposite sides in Syria for seven years.

Now, however, Tehran is beginning to realize that it is losing its dominant role in Syria as Russia assumes the role of big power there. An alliance with Turkey and Iraq could help Iran regain part of its lost influence in Syria without risking a direct clash with Russia.

The forging of the triple alliance also boosts the prestige and authority of Gen. Baqeri as a top-level player in Iran’s macro-politics, eclipsing that of President Hassan Rouhani and his Cabinet who have been excluded from the entire process.

The 56-year old two-star general, whose full surname is Afshordi-Baqeri, took over as Chief of Staff last June and has hit the road running. Holder of a PhD, Baqeri is regarded in Iranian military circles as an intellectual soldier as opposed to his long-serving predecessor Gen. Hassan Firuzababadi, who was more of a bureaucratic figure.

Gen. Baqeri has also established direct contact with his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is visiting Tehran next week. According to sources Gen. Baqeri wants Pakistan to join the emerging “triple alliance” or, at least, to revive aspects of military cooperation it had with Iran and Turkey before the mullahs seized power in Tehran in 1979.

In a gesture of goodwill toward Baqeri, Gen. Bajwa ordered the deployment additional Pakistani military units on the border with Iran to prevent infiltration of “terrorists” and smugglers into Iranian territory.

Gen. Baqeri is also sending an indirect message to the United Sates at a time that President Donald Trump is reportedly pondering whether or not he should declare the IRGC a “terrorist organization.”

Gen. Baqeri’s message is clear: The IRGC and the Iranian armed forces are really important players in the nation’s politics. Antagonizing them would be bad policy on the part of the US, especially at a time that the new commanders, under Baqeri, are trying to establish links with NATO via Turkey.

“Iran has already entered a post-Khamenei transition period,” says Nasser Zamani, an analyst in Tehran.

“What is certain is that the mullahs cannot handle that transition and that gives the military an opening to offer an alternative narrative of the revolution, paving the way for normalization with the outside world.”

Gen. Baqeri’s efforts to make the “triple alliance” possible is an indication, albeit indirect, that his priority is national security and regional military cooperation rather than “exporting revolution”, a project that has already failed.

Erdogan Launches Idlib Offensive, Rebel Factions Prepare to Fight Nusra Front

Idlib

Ankara, Beirut – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a “major military operation” in Syria’s northwestern province Idlib.

The offensive is led by rebel factions belonging to the Free Syrian Army but with the support of Turkish forces and Russian air support to fight off Tahrir al-Sham factions, among which is al-Nusra Front.

“There’s a serious operation in Syria’s Idlib today and it will continue,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party on Saturday, adding that Turkey would not allow a “terror corridor” on its border with Syria.

“For now the Free Syrian Army is carrying out the operation there,” he said. “Russia is supporting the operation from the air, and our armed forces from inside Turkey’s borders.”

Late on Saturday, Turkey deployed tanks and military vehicles on the its Syrian border, building up military presence, a Reuters witness said.

Erdogan told reporters after the meeting that Russia supports the operation from the air while supported by Turkish soldiers from within the Turkish border.

“As for the Russians, they will not have a role in the areas of our control at all. The role of the Russians is limited to areas under regime control,” he said.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran announced a deal last month to establish and patrol a “de-escalation” zone in the Idlib region, where Erdogan has said Turkey will deploy troops.

Turkey’s foreign minister said late on Saturday that Turkey aimed to prevent clashes in Idlib.

“Russian and Iranian observers will be in some regions here, and we will have our observers inside Idlib. Of course they will be in safe places so there will be no risks,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.

More so, Erdogan said that his country is currently taking a new step to achieve security in Idlib as part of its efforts to expand the scope of the “Euphrates Shield”.

He pointed out to the presence of serious action currently taking place in Idlib to achieve security.

In the same context, the Turkish army deployed a large number of special forces and armored military vehicles, which were sent over the past week to the town of Reyhanlı, a town and district of Hatay Province, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, near the country’s border with Syria.

Erdogan: FSA in New Idlib Operation

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey and Syrian rebel groups it backs are starting a military operation in Syria’s Idlib province with the aim of pushing out militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that control the region.

Idlib and surrounding areas of northwest Syria are among the largest bastions for rebel groups fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but have increasingly fallen under the sway of insurgent factions.

Erdogan said the operation, part of a de-escalation deal agreed between Turkey, Iran and Russia, will involve Free Syrian Army groups crossing into Idlib supported by Turkish soldiers from inside Turkey’s borders.

HTS is not party to the deal. 

“There’s a serious operation in Syria’s Idlib today and it will continue,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party in the western city of Afyon.

“Now this step has been taken, and it is underway,” he said, adding that Turkish forces were not yet involved and that it was a rebel operation so far.

Russia, an ally of Assad, is backing the operation from the air, he said.

Much of Idlib is controlled by the HTS alliance, spearheaded by formerly al-Nusra Front.

“We will never allow a terror corridor along our borders in Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue to take other initiatives after the Idlib operation.”

HTS has pledged to keep fighting Syrian regime forces and their allies, casting doubt on the de-escalation agreement, but Ankara has worked to lure militants from it, and two groups have defected from the alliance.

Iranian-Turkish Consensus to Prevent Changing Region’s Borders

Turkey

London, Ankara — The leaders of Iran and Turkey renewed on Wednesday their warning of the separation of Iraq’s Kurdistan, in the wake of the independence referendum organized by the region last month.

They also agreed to “prevent the change of geographical borders” in the region.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and voiced fear over the positions of Western countries, which he said were claiming to reject the referendum.

“The stances of America and foreign powers cannot be trusted … They are seeking a new Israel in the region,” he stated.

Upon his arrival to the Persian State, Erdogan met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where talks focused on the Kurdish referendum.

During a joint news conference, Rouhani called on the leaders of the Kurdistan region to go back on the “wrong decisions”, stressing that the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian alliance “is forced to take necessary and serious measures to achieve its strategic objectives in the region.”

The Iranian president, however, stressed that he rejected attempts to exert pressure on the people of Iraq’s Kurdistan, saying: “We cannot accept separation in the region… Syria and Iraq are two united countries and we do not accept changing geographical boundaries in any way.”

He added that Iran and Turkey would work together to “face the disintegration of Iraq and Syria and reduce tension in the region.”

For his part, Erdogan attacked the Kurdish referendum, highlighting his rejection of what he described as a “decision taken by the [Israeli] Mossad.”

“Iran and Turkey have taken a firm position that the central government in Iraq is legitimate and the referendum is illegal,” he stated.

In parallel with political issues, Rouhani pointed to economic talks between the two sides.

He said that the two countries have taken important decisions in the joint meeting of strategic cooperation, with the aim of developing trade ties, including the expansion of banking relations and trade in local currencies.

He added that Iran has expressed its readiness to provide Turkey with the required facilities in the areas of tourism, petrochemicals, and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed the need to freeze the results of the Kurdish referendum, pointing out that he had proposed to mediate between Baghdad and Erbil “in an attempt to protect the rights of northern Iraq, but Barzani did not listen to Turkey.”

Iranian-Turkish Military Cooperation to Respond to Kurdish Referendum

Akar

Ankara, London – Amid growing coordination between Ankara and Tehran to confront last week’s Kurdish independence referendum, Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar held talks on Monday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran.

Rouhani said during the talks: “Iran and Turkey are the anchor of stability in the region when they stand by side and they play a role in resolving regional issues.”

The meeting between the two officials precedes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Iran on Wednesday where he is scheduled to meet Rouhani.

“Preserving geographic borders is among the most important goals of joint cooperation between Tehran and Ankara,” added the Iranian leader during his talks with Akar.

He said that political and economic Turkish-Iranian ties stand on “good levels”, underling the need to develop “defense and military ties.”

Without directly referring to the Kurdish vote, Rouhani stressed the need to maintain the unity of Iraqi and Syrian territories, preserving stability in the region and “refraining from changing geographic borders.”

“Any change in borders will lead to insecurity and instability in the region,” he warned.

For his part, Akar said during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Baqeri: “Turkey and Iran are developing their military cooperation against current threats and dangers.”

“Turkey and Iran have been friendly states for hundreds of years and they share common values,” he continued.

He revealed that the two sides have reached an understanding on combating terrorism and ensuring border security.

Baqeri meanwhile said that he discussed with the Turkish official common threats that their two countries are facing.

He added that Turkey and Iran “have a joint position that opposes the illegitimate referendum” that was held in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We have common views on the unity of Iraqi territory and the need to reject the vote,” he continued.

In addition, Baqeri and Akar discussed Iraqi and Syrian efforts to combat the ISIS terrorist group and ways to achieve peace and security in the two countries.

Furthermore, they addressed increasing cooperation between the Turkish and Iranian militaries, which could include joint drills and the exchange of expertise.

These issues will be discussed further during the upcoming talks between Rouhani and Erdogan.

Baqeri had paid a visit to Ankara in August, the first of its kind by an Iranian chief of staff since 1979.

Ankara Confirms Agreement with Baghdad on Iraq’s Unity

Ankara Confirms Agreement with Baghdad on Iraq’s Unity

Ankara- Turkish reactions rejecting the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is scheduled for next Monday, have continued.

At a time when Ankara continued its warnings, hundreds of Turks and Turkmen demonstrated in Istanbul Sunday, rejecting the separation of the region.

President Erdogan said at a press conference, before leaving Istanbul to the United States to attend the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), that Iraq and Turkey are on the same page as it comes to the issue of the protection of Iraq’s unity.

Both countries have expressed in clear terms that they are opposed to Erbil’s plans to vote on whether to leave Iraq on September 25.

Erdogan told reporters: “We will hold a separate meeting with Iraqi Premier Haidar al-Abadi, but as far as I see, we are looking in the same direction. What is this direction? The territorial integrity of Iraq.”

The president said Turkey shares a 350-kilometer (217-mile) long border with Iraq, adding that both countries belong to the same civilization.

Erdogan warned northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani again against holding a referendum on independence.

“You knock our door and get any kind of support when you are in trouble, but you go your own way when it comes to the disintegration of Iraq.”

He also said Turkey’s National Security Council and Council of Ministers will convene the same day on 22 September to discuss the referendum issue and will make a decision demonstrating the “ultimate stance” of the country on it.

The referendum issue will also top the agenda during his meeting with US President Donald Trump, he added.

In this context, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned Friday that the Iraqi Kurdish plan to hold an independence referendum was a “grave mistake.”

“We don’t want to impose sanctions, but, if we arrive at that point, there are steps that have been already planned that Turkey can take,” Yildirim said.

Erdogan warned on Friday Barzani of going ahead with the independence referendum on September 25.
He said in a television interview: “Barzani will clearly see how sensitive we are to the vote after the national security council convenes on September 22.”

The national security council was set to meet on September 27, but Erdogan rescheduled to September 22 to precede the Kurdish vote.

Furthermore, the Turkish leader described as a “very erroneous” Barzani’s statements on the vote.

Erdogan Warns Kurdish President against Going through with Independence Vote

Erdogan

Ankara – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Friday Kurdish President Masoud Barzani of going ahead with the independence referendum on September 25.

He said in a television interview: “Barzani will clearly see how sensitive we are to the vote after the national security council convenes on September 22.”

The national security council was set to meet on September 27, but Erdogan brought the date to September 22 to precede the Kurdish vote.

Furthermore, the Turkish leader described as a “very erroneous” Barzani’s statements on the vote.

Turkey will announce its next move towards the referendum after the national security council and government meet on September 22, said Erdogan.

He is set to chair both meetings.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was making the “wrong” move with its vote.

He had agreed with his Iraqi counterpart Haidar al-Abadi on completely rejecting the referendum. The two officials had held a telephone conversation on the issue on Friday night.

Yildirim added that the Kurdish government should “as soon as possible” go back on its decision to hold the vote, adding that the referendum will not benefit the region as a whole or the Kurds.

Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar had telephoned his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Baqeri on Friday to also discuss the referendum.

Ankara had in the past threatened to resort to force should the Iraqi Kurdistan Region fail to go back on its decision to hold the September 25 vote on independence from Iraq.

Erdogan Confirms Turkey, Russia, Iran Share Same Stance on Syria’s Idlib

Idlib

Ankara – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed on Tuesday the importance of the sixth round of the Astana talks on Syria that will focus on the future of the region of Idlib.

He told reporters as he returned to Turkey from a trip to Kazakhstan: “The operation in Idlib is ongoing according to a previous agreement with Russia. We have no dispute with Russia over this. We also have no dispute with Iran over this.”

“I believe that the fruitful contact between these three countries will continue after Astana,” he added.

“I can say that the sixth round of Astana will witness many positive developments, especially over Idlib,” he stated in reference to efforts to expel al-Qaeda affiliates from the Syrian district.

The sixth round of talks is set to kick off on Wednesday.

Turkish military sources had revealed on Monday that Turkey’s preparations for a wide military operation in Idlib had reached their final phases.

Russia also backs this operation, which could also include Afrin that is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units that are affiliated with Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party.

Diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are in agreement over the Idlib operation.

In addition, Turkish television on Monday reported on the training of Free Syrian Army factions and Turkish forces in northern Syria that will take part in the Idlib and Afrin operations.

Separately, Erdogan denied claims that he had met in Kazakhstan with Syrian regime head Bashar Assad.

He told reporters: “I did not meet Assad and I have no intention to meet him either.”