Jan 10 2019

Ankara won't buy U.S. defense system without acquiring Russian systems - Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu

Turkey does not seek permission from anyone for the impending operation on the east of Euphrates River in Syria and the operation is not related to U.S. withdrawal from the country, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said in a television program on Thursday.

Turkey announced in November that it would launch a large scale operation against territories in Syria controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as the Syrian branch of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

On another matter that has vexed U.S. and Turkish relations, Çavuşoğlu said on the same program that Turkey is willing to purchase American missile defense systems but not if Washington makes it a condition that Ankara drops its acquisition of the Russian S-400 systems, Reuters reported. The agreement between Ankara and Moscow has alarmed the United States, due to the prospect of a NATO member working with Russian military systems. 

YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Dec. 19 that he had decided to pull some 2.000 American troops from Syria. Turkish government later said that it had decided to delay the operation after Trump’s decision, while the White House said that Turkey would assume the responsibility to defeat ISIS after U.S. withdrawal.

"Our operation against the YPG/PKK is not related to whether the U.S. withdraws or not," Anadolu Agency reported Çavuşoğlu as saying during a television program on NTV.

The foreign minister said that Ankara was unaware of the U.S. administration’s decision when it announced its plans for a military campaign on the east of Euphrates.

Turkey is determined to go ahead with the operation and will decide its timeline, Çavuşoğlu said.

"We will not seek permission from anyone on this issue," Çavuşoğlu added.

The U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton visited Ankara this week to discuss the specifics of U.S. withdrawal, while seeking assurance to protect Kurdish militia in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to meet Bolton and the adviser met his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin and other senior officials at Ankara’s presidency complex instead.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview on January 9, repeated that Erdogan committed to protect Kurdish fighters who fought alongside with the U.S. troops against the Islamic State in Syria.