Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, listens during a joint news statement with Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 10 January 2018

Erdogan: We will continue Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s military will continue its operation in Syria’s Afrin and Manbij regions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday during a parliamentary address to his ruling AK Party.
In 2016, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on its Syrian border to eradicate what it called a “corridor of terror,” made up by the dual threat of Daesh and Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Turkish foreign minister accused the Syrian regime of striking moderate opposition forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border, warning it could torpedo talks aimed at ending the war.
Ankara is working closely on Syria with Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad’s main allies, but has stepped up criticism of the regime’s behavior in recent days.
“Regime forces are striking moderate opposition with the pretext of fighting against Al-Nusra (Front),” Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency, referring to the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Idlib province is almost entirely controlled by anti-regime forces that are dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) consisting mostly of former Al-Nusra fighters.
“This attitude would scupper the political solution process,” Cavusoglu said.
“The parties that will come together in Sochi should refrain from” any action that could threaten the talks, he warned.
Russia is hoping to hold a Syria peace congress in its Black Sea resort of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.
Meanwhile, US-brokered talks based in Geneva between the regime and the opposition are also going forward, albeit at a stuttering pace.
A previous attempt in November to convene talks in Sochi failed due to disagreements between the prospective participants.
Turkey says it will oppose any talks involving the Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara views as a terror group.
In 2016, Ankara and Moscow brokered a fragile cease-fire in certain areas — which has been bolstered by the negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Both Damascus and the opposition factions regularly accuse one another of violating the cease-fire in the de-escalation zones, including in Idlib.
A likely future sticking point between Russia and Turkey is the fate of Assad, who Ankara has vehemently opposed throughout the conflict.
Last month, Erdogan said it was impossible to advance with Assad in power, describing him as a “terrorist.”
Syrian regime forces on Monday pounded Idlib as well as the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus, the two last opposition bastions in Syria.
Cavusoglu also accused the regime forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists.
His comments came a day after regime forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on the largest opposition-held enclave in the country’s north amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach an opposition-held air base in Idlib province and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with Aleppo.
The regime offensive around Idlib has forced thousands of civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey.
Cavusoglu said Syrian regime attacks on moderate opposition forces would “ax” peace efforts.
Turkey, Russia and Iran have taken the lead in Syria peace efforts over the past year. Turkey however, backs the opposition while Russia and Iran are close allies of Assad.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the number of Russian troops left in Syria is sufficient for fending off any attacks by militants.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said late on Monday that its forces have repelled a series of drone attacks on its bases in Syria — the Hemeimeem air base and a naval facility in Tartus. It said that out of the 13 drones involved, seven were shot down and six were forced to land. The ministry said there was no damage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria last month and ordered a partial troops pullout.
Asked Tuesday whether the withdrawal could have been premature in view of the drone attack, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces in Syria have “all the necessary means” to counter any challenge.


US sanctions on Turkey loom amid stalemate on S-400s

A Russian serviceman walks past S-400 missile air defense systems in Tverskaya Street in central Moscow. (Reuters)
Updated 2 min 51 sec ago

US sanctions on Turkey loom amid stalemate on S-400s

  • Ministers as well as high officials of the two countries are working on a solution to the dispute
  • Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 jets and has suspended Turkey’s involvement in the program

ANKARA: Following US President Donald Trump’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington on Nov. 13, each party was quick to claim success. But the threat of sanctions is still looming if Turkey fails to abandon its plans concerning the Russian S-400 air defense system.
Turkey began receiving its first batch of S-400s in July. In response to this move, the US has quickly banned sales of F-35s to Turkey and removed the country from the F-35 fifth-generation joint strike fighter program.
The US concern was that the system might be used by Russia to secretly acquire confidential details about the jet and is also incompatible with the NATO system.
The US secretary of state and Turkish minister of foreign affairs as well as national security advisers are working on a solution to the dispute.
However, last week White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien made it clear that the threat of sanctions still exists if no common ground is found.
Gonul Tol, founding director of Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and adjunct professor at George Washington University, thinks there are not that many face-saving ways of walking out of the S-400 deal for Erdogan.
“One option that is being voiced is for Ankara to announce it has activated the system while in fact the system remains unactivated. Russian response to this option carries a risk for Ankara,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACT

The US concern is that the system might be used by Russia to secretly acquire confidential details about the jet and is also incompatible with the NATO system.

But Tol also believes that if Turkey fails to take steps to address Western concerns over the S-400, Congress might push the administration further to implement Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey.
Last month, the US House of Representatives adopted a sanctions package to penalize Ankara over its Syria operation, and key members of the Senate, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, have pledged to “come and hit Turkey hard if they don’t get out of Syria and reset the table.”
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, believes that the solution to this conundrum might be Turkey and US agreeing to keep S-400 boxed in northern Cyprus — a compromise that would satisfy the US and save face for Erdogan since he could easily sell it to the electorate.
“But I think it is extremely unlikely,” he said. The statements of Erdogan, on his way back from Washington to Ankara, were telling, as he announced Turkey will not completely give up on S-400 to acquire US Patriots. Accordingly, Erdogan believes “the offers to buy just Patriots and completely put Russian S-400s aside is an interference to Turkey’s sovereignty rights.”
Considering it a “matter of national sovereignty,” Turkey justifies its decision to buy the Russian system just because the US had declined to provide Ankara with the alternative Patriot missile defense system.
According to Wasilewski, the US may compromise on price or the technology transfer, but most probably not to extent Ankara wants as it is abnormal to fully share such advanced technology even with the closest allies and Turkey is not its close ally for now.
“I think Turkish decision-makers, for some reason, are quite sure that Trump won’t sanction Turkey and that they need to wait for the new Congress,” said Wasilewski.