Turkish official: We have intelligence that Assad is cooperating with ISIS

Anti-Erdogan demonstration. Berlin, June 2013. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / Ankara “cannot and must not” cooperate with the regime of Bashar al-Assad as the lack of authority in Syria generated the ISIS problem, according to Osman Sert who spoke to EURACTIV in a telephone interview. 

Osman Sert is the press secretary of Turkey’s premier Ahmet Davuto?lu. He spoke to Sarantis Michalopoulos.

At the EU-Turkey summit, Prime Minister Davuto?lu expressed the expectation that the Cyrus reunification would happen very soon. Why is the Turkish government so optimistic?

We are always trying to be optimistic about the solution of the Cyprus issue. We have supported all kind of initiatives. Both parties on the island know what to do to solve the problem. The only thing that has been lacking is the political will, and we hope it is on the table now.

We are seeing this political will on the Northern Cyprus side and the Turkish side has always had it. The fact is that the previous Greek government and the previous Turkish government just had elections and refreshed their mandates. These governments are strong now and we have at least four years in front of us for any kind of solution.

We can be optimistic that we will find a solution not only for Cyprus but also for the issues between Greece and Turkey.

Do you realistically believe that Moscow will maintain the Turkish Stream project? Since its first announcement, we have not seen any progress.

Everybody knows now that there is a problem between Turkey and Russia because of the downing of the Russian jet, as it was violating the Turkish airspace. We had warned Russia several times before this incident not to violate our borders.

But our collective focus must be on tackling, head-on, the global threat that Daesh poses, securing the future of Syria and seeking a solution to the current refugee crisis. Failure to do so will enable Daesh to expand its hateful ideology.

Such energy projects need time to be realized. I also remember the Blue Stream project which took many years [the gas pipeline between Russia and the Asian territory of Turke across the Black Sea]. There are so many conditions for any energy project to be a reality such as the oil and gas markets. All projects between Turkey and Russia, until one of the parties cancels, are on the table.

At least for now, taking into account the psychology of both nations, we should be patient in talking about such long-term projects.

Are you planning to take any initiative on a governmental level to de-escalate the situation with Russia?

We don’t want to escalate the situation. We have already declared that we are ready for any kind of dialogue with the Russians. Unfortunately, except for a meeting between the Turkish and Russian foreign offices, the Russians have a question mark. From the very beginning, Turkey was ready for a dialogue to discuss what happened to our borders.

Maybe you have seen the pictures of the Russian pilot who lost his life. He received a respectful military ceremony, with the attendance of Russian and Turkish high-level military officials, before his body was handed over to Russia. This shows the Turkish approach.

The American President, Barack Obama, recently demanded that Ankara closes a 60-mile stretch of its border with Syria which is the sole remaining crossing point for ISIS militants. What is your comment on that?

Turkey from the very beginning has tried to stop ISIS militants entering its territory. ISIS has already killed more than 100 Turkish citizens in Ankara [in the interview the official used both Daesh and ISIS referring to Islamic State]. There is no question as to whether Turkey is doing its best to stop ISIS penetrating its territory. In spite of all our fight with PKK, PKK terrorists are also sometimes crossing the Turkish border: does this means that Turkey supports the PKK?

We are already building some new walls equipped with cameras and radar on the Turkish-Syrian borders to secure our country against penetration by terrorists. We’re doing everything we can in order to stop terrorists getting into our country. And this is for our own security, for the security of Turkey, because ISIS is targeting Turkey as well. We’re not doing this just because some other countries want us to. We are doing this to protect our soil and our citizens.

No one should forget that the main cause of the ISIS problem is the lack of authority in Damascus. If this continues and there is no a central authority that can control the whole country, organizations like ISIS or Al Qaeda will continue to exist. The reason for the ISIS problem is Assad himself so we cannot and must not cooperate with Assad’s regime which is responsible for thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions more. 

And we have intelligence that Assad is cooperating with ISIS. Sometimes Assad’s regime fights opposition groups and then the ISIS militants go to this place. Assad’s regime is the reason for Daesh.

Despite the new momentum in EU-Turkey relations after the recent summit, there is still opposition in the EU regarding Turkey’s EU path. Particularly, the head of center-right EPP, Manfred Weber, recently said that his political family is against a Turkey’s full membership.

What is important for us is the acquis of the EU and the decisions taken by the European Council until now regarding Turkey’s accession process. According to the acquis, we are continuing our way towards full membership. This is important for us.

UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, stressed that “the EU gives £2.1 Billion in return for 75 million Turks having free movement into Euroland”. Would you like to comment on that? 

Right now, Turkey is hosting 2.2 million Syrian refugees. It is our historical responsibility for our brothers and sisters in Syria. This is a humanitarian matter. We are hosting them, we have been carrying the burden until now and we have spent more than $8 billion from our budget for the refugees.

And we are not expecting the EU someday to come and pay us back this amount.

The refugee problem is not only Turkish. It is a whole continent’s problem and if the EU wants to share some of the burden, what is the problem?

?If Europe is contributing to a humanitarian project, why are some Europeans unhappy with that?

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