Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the Afrin offensive, the GCC crisis, and relations with Trump’s America.
Geopolitically placed between the East and the West, Turkey plays a hugely important and strategic role in many of the region’s crises and conflicts, including the ongoing Syrian war.
On January 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch, an air and ground offensive against Afrin in northwestern Syria. The region is controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which Turkey considers a “terrorist group”.
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“There have been YPG/PKK terrorists in Afrin region and they were sending harassment fires and rockets to Turkey … It became a serious threat to our security and to our borders,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Al Jazeera.
These two issues (YPG support and Gulen) have fuelled anti-American emotions and sentiments in Turkey. And overall, there is a lack of trust.
“We warned them. We warned the countries who have been engaged with them. Nevertheless, they increased the harassment fires. That’s why we launched this operation …”
Asked about US-made weapons that were captured from Kurdish fighters and the United States’ open support for Kurdish fighters, Cavusoglu said: “Those weapons have been given by the United States to YPG. We have asked the US not to give them weapons, but they did. We asked them to stop and President Trump promised Erdogan that they will stop giving weapons to this organisation. In the last phone conversation between the two presidents, President Trump told Erdogan that they stopped … giving weapons to this organisation.”
The US Department of State, however, has stated that it still considers the YPG as an ally in the fight against ISIL.
“It’s called [a] double standard. Particularly in our fight against terrorism we see this double standard everywhere … The US … are fighting all sorts of terrorist organisations in the world, but in Syria, they are collaborating with a terrorist organisation,” the Turkish FM told Al Jazeera.
US-Turkish relations have been strained in the past few years, especially since the attempted coup in July 2016. In 2017, the US imposed travel restrictions on Turks and Turkey reciprocated with similar measures for Americans.
“Normally, we don’t have any problems with any allies … But … if they take any action against Turkey, it will be reciprocated by Turkey. Turkey has changed,” said Cavusoglu.
He explained that in recent years US-Turkish relations have not been easy, because of “their support of YPG … which is a terrorist organisation and posing a direct threat to Turkey. Secondly, after the attempted coup, we asked the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen … So far, they haven’t.”
“These two issues have fuelled anti-American emotions and sentiments in Turkey. And overall, there is a lack of trust,” he added. “First, we need to rebuild this trust.”
GCC crisis: ‘Why are you trying to divide the Muslim world?’
When in, June 2017, neighbouring countries imposed an air, sea and land blockade on Qatar, the Turkish foreign minister travelled the region in an attempt to broker an end to the GCC crisis. From the start of the crisis, Ankara has played a pivotal role in assisting Qatar to weather the blockade.
“The decision against Qatar was not fair … It has been a very unfortunate situation. We don’t want to see such a division in the GCC or in the Muslim world. Stability in the GCC is so important for all of us,” Cavusoglu told Al Jazeera.
“There are some claims and accusations, but so far, not even a single evidence has been shared. And each time I see someone from Kuwait leadership, I ask them if they have a received any evidence about these accusations, and they say ‘No’ …”
He believes that “it was a very much political decision, and unfortunately, it didn’t serve the interest of any countries in the region. I hope they will overcome this situation soon, and we still believe that Saudi Arabia can lead the process to overcome this situation.”