Turkey's Erdogan discusses Syria, refugees with European leaders

Convergence on Idlib fighting but on refugees 'a number of clarifications' by the Europeans from Turkey's president.

    Ankara hopes for progress on a new migrant deal with Brussels by the next scheduled EU summit on March 26 [File: Adem Altan/AFP]
    Ankara hopes for progress on a new migrant deal with Brussels by the next scheduled EU summit on March 26 [File: Adem Altan/AFP]

    Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday discussed the war in Syria's rebel enclave of Idlib, with the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the refugee crisis it has largely caused.

    The four-party video conference that involved French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came after Turkey decided last month to reopen its border for refugees trying to reach Europe.

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    The move sparked tensions with Brussels and with neighbouring Greece, when thousands of migrants and refugees massed on the Turkish-Greek border.

    "Humanitarian assistance for Idlib and the refugee issue" were on the agenda, according to the Turkish presidency, along with other issues such as fighting in Libya.

    Erdogan's decision to "open the gates" for refugees heading to Europe came after more than 50 Turkish troops were killed by Syrian government fire in its northwestern province of Idlib in February. 

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    Turkey is home to about four million refugees - mostly Syrians - and is demanding more assistance from the European Union amid fears of another influx from Idlib, where the Syrian government launched an offensive backed by Russian airpower.

    Ankara hopes for progress on a new migrant deal with Brussels by the next scheduled EU summit on March 26.

    Macron's office said there was a convergence of views on the situation in Idlib and the need to step up humanitarian aid to civilians during the conference that lasted about an hour.

    But on the migrant issue, NATO and EU relations, "a number of clarifications have been requested by Europeans from Erdogan in order to achieve clearer and peaceful relations", the Elysee said. 

    Turkish soldiers

    Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States believes Russia has killed dozens of Turkish military personnel in the course of its military operations in Syria.

    He added Washington continued to offer support to its NATO ally Turkey.

    Speaking at a news conference at US State Department, Pompeo did not specify where or during which incident the Turkish soldiers were killed. 

    Last month, an air raid that Ankara said was carried out by the Syrian government forces killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers

    SOURCE: News agencies