Erdogan Says 1998 Pact With Damascus Allows Turkey to Hit Kurds
(Bloomberg) -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a 1998 security agreement with Damascus gave Turkey the right to attack Kurdish forces in Syria if they posed a threat.
According to accounts published by Turkish media, Erdogan asserted on Tuesday that under the so-called Adana Agreement, which was updated in 2010, Turkey can act if the Syrian “regime doesn’t take measures” to ensure stability.
The two-decade-old pact contained Syrian commitments to clamp down on operations in its territory of the separatist Kurdish PKK, which Turkey has been fighting since 1984. The Syrian YPG militia being targeted now by Erdogan’s military has links to the PKK.
Turkish troops crossed into Syria on Wednesday, three days after President Donald Trump controversially said the U.S. wouldn’t stand in the way. Erdogan hailed the withdrawal of dozens of American troops who’d been working closely with Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.
“We definitely don’t want to confront U.S. or allied forces over there,” Erdogan said, urging a full American pullback.
A complete exit for the U.S. could ultimately play into the hands of Russia, whose military intervention helped turn the tide of the Syrian war in favor of Assad. As the Turkish offensive got underway, the Associated Press reported that the YPG had asked Russia to mediate talks with the Assad government.
Russian and Iranian officials have suggested that resuscitating the Adana pact could pave the way for Erdogan to resume cooperation with the regime he has fiercely opposed in Damascus. Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkish and Syrian intelligence organizations were talking in an effort to bring “peace and stability to the area.” Adana is the city in southern Turkey where the deal was signed.
“I would not speak to him myself, that’s another issue,” Erdogan said of Assad, insisting the Syrian leader must be held responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths during the war. Erdogan vacationed with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad before the two fell out in the early phase of the conflict.
Erdogan also claimed Turkey had the right to carry out air attacks over Syria.
“There is no U.S. airspace over there, there is international air space,” NTV television cited Erdogan as telling reporters on his return from Serbia late Tuesday. “It is Syria’s airspace. Thus, the decision belongs to the regime.”
The Combined Air Operations Center, which controls all U.S. and coalition flights throughout the region, cut Turkey off from its information sharing system on Monday, according to a Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information. He refused to speculate over the motive for the decision, adding that Turkey was giving its allies two hours’ notice of Turkish flights over Syria.
Turkish warplanes have struck Kurdish positions up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) into Syrian territory, equivalent to the depth of an envisaged buffer zone that Erdogan’s government aims to clear of YPG fighters.
Ankara says the group’s ties to the PKK are a grave threat. The YPG says it poses no danger to Turkey and only wants to defend Syria’s Kurds.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. allowed Turkish warplanes to join patrols over Syria as part of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve against Islamic State for the first time since Turkey downed a Russian jet in November 2015.
However, Turkey regarded the patrols as an attempt by the U.S. to dissuade it from launching the offensive, said the official.
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