Iran, Turkey form common front against Kurdish ‘militants’
Iran, Turkey form common front against Kurdish ‘militants’
The two countries are discussing joint military action against Kurdish militants they accuse of threatening their territorial integrity.
The cooperation plan was announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before he headed to Jordan on an official visit.
Erdogan said Turkey and Iran will take military action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its offshoot, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).
Both countries oppose Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum scheduled for Sept. 25, as they are concerned that it may spur separatist ambitions among their own Kurdish populations.
The joint military action is expected to take place in the Qandil region along the Iraq-Iran border.
“Joint action against terrorist groups that have become a threat is always on the agenda,” Erdogan said on Monday.
“This issue has been discussed between the two military chiefs, including its diplomatic aspects.”
Turkey recently started constructing a 144-km-long wall on its border with Iran, aimed at tackling infiltrations of Kurdish militants and smuggling.
Bilgehan Alagoz, an expert on Turkey-Iran relations at Marmara University in Istanbul, said there has been bilateral cooperation against terrorists over the last three decades.
“But in the last six years, Turkey and Iran have had a different approach toward Syria,” he told Arab News.
“This division enabled the PKK and its Syrian branch the PYD (Democratic Union Party) to increase their activities in the region,” she said.
“Recently the two countries have great concerns about security threats, and they’re willing to crack down on PKK/PJAK terrorist activities.”
Alagoz said with greater border controls and intelligence-sharing about terrorist groups, Iran and Turkey will show intensified cooperation against regional security threats.
“But the US strategy, based on arming the PYD, creates great concern in Turkey. This is another reason why Turkey is determined to act together with other regional actors against threats on its borders,” she added.
Gulriz Sen, an Iran expert at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara, said bilateral relations have gone through ebbs and flows since the start of the Arab Spring as the two neighbors, each keen to shape regional developments, hold diverging views on the Syrian regime and the role of Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s struggle against Daesh.
“But the recent visit of Bagheri demonstrates elements of convergence in bilateral affairs, and provides a fresh impetus for cooperation based on Turkey’s and Iran’s rejection of an independent Kurdish state in the region, which they fear would prove contagious and stir up the demands and aspirations of their own Kurdish populations,” she said.
The decision to take joint action against the PKK and PJAK reflects their common opposition to changing the region’s political map, Sen added.
Ahmad Majidyar, resident fellow and director of the IranObserved project at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the latest political and security developments in Syria and Iraq have brought Iran and Turkey closer together, and have forced the two regional powers to cooperate to address issues of mutual concern.
“Iran believes it now has the upper hand in Iraq and Syria, and wants to defuse tensions with Turkey to consolidate and sustain its strategic interests in the region,” Majidyar told Arab News.
“And as the Trump administration is ratcheting up political and economic pressure on Iran, Tehran hopes that closer diplomatic and economic ties with Ankara will help it mitigate the impact of US sanctions.”
Majidyar said Turkey is disappointed with US policies in Iraq and Syria, namely continued support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria, and not preventing Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary forces from participating in the recent Tal Afar operation.
“So Ankara is seeking to address some of its political and security concerns in the region by working closely with Russia and Iran instead,” he said.
“But while Turkey and Iran are taking concrete steps to cooperate on regional issues, divergent interests and policies may hinder the two major non-Arab Middle Eastern powers from developing their issue-based cooperation into a strategic relationship.”
According to AFP, Erdogan and Jordan’s King Abdallah called on Monday for new “serious and effective” peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the royal palace said.
Meeting in Amman, they urged “the resumption of serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel to end the conflict on the basis of a two-state solution to assure an independent Palestinian state with June 1967 borders and east Jerusalem as capital.”
“New peace negotiations must take place according to a precise timetable and be based on international resolutions,” Erdogan and Abdallah said.
They also expressed their “unequivocal rejection of any attempt to change the legal and historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque and any unilateral Israeli action threatening the identity of east Jerusalem”.
Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN: Merkel
- Germany's Merkel says Syria must be more secure before refugees return
BEIRUT: The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland can only happen in coordination with the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during her two-day visit to Lebanon.
Refugee returns have been a hot-button issue in Lebanon, a small country that has the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
“We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria, that will allow refugees to return to Syria,” Merkel told reporters on Friday, after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“I confirmed with officials that returns can only happen in agreement and talks with UN organizations,” she added.
Around 500 refugees left southern Lebanon earlier this year for Syria in a return organized between Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and several thousand have gone back to their homeland from towns around the border in recent years.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
Lebanese officials have been increasingly calling for refugee returns with or without a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old crisis.
Merkel said it was “understandable” that the large refugee influx had caused tensions in Lebanon but expressed hope they could be resolved.
Her comments come at a rocky time for ties between Lebanon’s government and the UNHCR.
This month, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil ordered a halt to new residency permits for UNHCR’s foreign staff, accusing them of “intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily.”
The UN has said it hopes Bassil will rescind his decision. The rest of Lebanon’s government has not officially commented.
Hariri, who has been appointed for a third term as Lebanon’s premier, said his country was still seeking refugee returns “as quickly as possible.”
“The only permanent solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner,” he told reporters.
Merkel is also due to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday, before flying back to Germany where she faces intense pressure to curb migrant arrivals.
According to the UNHCR, more than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million are currently internally displaced.
The UN last week said it noted at least 920,000 displacements since the beginning of the year, the highest in that time frame in Syria’s war.
Aid groups have warned that heightened anti-refugee rhetoric and quieting battlefronts in Syria could lead government to force refugees out.