Turkey reiterates its commitment to NATO despite drill incident

Protestors wave flags and carry a banner during a demonstration against NATO military exercises on Nov. 18, 2017 in Ankara. (AFP / ADEM ALTAN)
Updated 20 November 2017
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Turkey reiterates its commitment to NATO despite drill incident

ANKARA: Turkey remains committed to NATO membership despite withdrawing its troops from the alliance's drill in Norway on Nov. 17, the country's chief of general staff has said.

Turkey withdrew from the drill after the name and picture of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the founding leader of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were used in an “enemy chart.”

Anti-NATO protests erupted in several Turkish cities of Turkey and a hashtag #NATOdanÇıkalım (Lets Exit NATO) pioneered by the Eurasianist Vatan (Homeland) Party trended on Twitter.

But Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar said: “Turkey’s alliance with NATO should not be undermined, and NATO is the most successful and most effective military organization that has existed throughout history.”

Speaking about the drill incident while attending the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada on Nov. 18, he said: “NATO administrators responded timely and appropriately. We should not allow anyone to undermine our alliance and our solidarity.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg immediately apologized to Turkey verbally and in writing to Akar during the meeting in Canada.

A NATO member since 1952, Turkey is one of the key members of the Alliance contributing with the highest number of troops and supporting 14 missions in 11 countries.

The presence of Turkey in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, with its Muslim identity, reinforces the alliance’s mission. With the deployment of 659 soldiers for peacekeeping, Turkey is among the Top 10 contributor nations in Afghanistan, while two Turkish diplomats, Hikmet Cetin and Ismail Aramaz, served respectively in 2003-2006 and 2015-2016 as NATO’s top civilian representatives in Afghanistan.

Retired Brig. Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, who spent many years serving with NATO, does not think that the drill incident will cause problems. The incident occupied the domestic agenda for populist and political reasons, he said. He hoped that relations between Turkey and NATO would be strengthened.

“Although the strongest military alliance where Turkey takes part is NATO, the relations between both sides have never been so warm,” Solmazturk told Arab News. “As a member who has equal rights and powers under the Alliance, Turkey should take appropriate steps to render its ties with the Alliance much more effective.”

According to Solmazturk, Turkey should assign specialized experts to the missions within NATO, and support its membership with a political will.

“For instance, each year NATO organizes summits where presidents as well as defense ministers and chiefs of staff attend. I would suggest that Turkey should make public its positions regarding the critical decisions taken during those summits, but so far it has not been the case,” he said.

However, Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, said the drill incident did not target only the Turkish president but also its founder leader Ataturk.

“The intensity of social and political reactions that were given afterward are mainly grounded on the fact that this incident was aimed at the Turkish republic’s existence,” Guney told Arab News.

“The exit of Turkey from NATO would weaken the alliance to a great extent, especially in terms of Turkey’s successful peacekeeping contributions to NATO operations in Muslim countries like Afghanistan,” she added. “Even the withdrawal of 40 soldiers from the drill resulted in the failure of the drill scenario of NATO.”

According to Guney, given the increase of geopolitical uncertainties in its region along with the threats of non-state actors and the rising capacities of some regional countries to develop weapons of mass destruction, Turkey’s identity as a NATO member country is a powerful deterrence against present and emerging threats.


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.