Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Syria should not be an “arm-wrestling arena” for outside powers, amid talks with both U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after the former’s vow to strike Damascus over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Douma region.
“We are uncomfortable with the fact some countries that are confident of their military power have transformed Syria into an arm wrestling arena … Nobody has the right to burn the Mediterranean and Syrian soil in the fire of military and political power struggles,” Erdoğan said at a ceremony in Ankara on April 12.
His comments came after Trump warned Russia on April 11 of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack in the rebel enclave of Douma near Damascus. Russia replied that any missile attack will be intercepted by its sophisticated S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems in Syria.
Erdoğan spoke with Trump late on April 11 and with Putin on April 12 amid tension between Washington and Moscow. Statements issued by the Turkish Presidency as well as by the Kremlin and the White House did not detail the content of the conversations but said the leaders agreed to stay in touch over developments in Syria.
Erdoğan’s remarks on April 12 indicated Ankara’s intention not to take any visible part in growing tension between the two powers.
“We don’t have any intention to give up our alliance with the U.S., or our strategic relationship with Russia that we have formed in a broad area from energy to security, or working together with Iran to solve regional problems,” he said.
“Our relations with countries such as Russia, Iran and China are not an alternative to our relations with the West, but a supplement to them. This is not an obstacle to us expressing the wrongs of the two sides,” he added.
“Those who support the [Bashar] al-Assad regime are wrong. Those who are supporting the [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party] PYD are also wrong. We will struggle to the end to these two wrongs,” Erdoğan said.
Reiterating Turkey’s objection to the presence of the PYD within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed under the U.S.-backed coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Erdoğan pledged that Turkey would maintain its presence and activities in Syria “until the country becomes safe for everyone.”
“We will never have a thought to point a gun at the soldiers of our allies. But we recommend as a friend that the soldiers of these countries do not stay too close to PYD soldiers,” he said. These remarks were an apparent softening of Erdoğan’s tone against the U.S. after he previously vowed to target all soldiers present in the Syrian province of Manbij, where U.S. forces are stationed alongside the SDF.
He also stressed Turkey’s objective of securing its border with Syria by “eliminating all terrorists in the region.”
“We consider the presence of any terrorists, either from DAESH [an Arabic acronym for ISIL] or the PYD, as a threat to our security. We see eliminating them as a must for our survival. This should be well-known,” Erdoğan said.