Relations with Assad regime hinge on results in fight against terrorism: Turkish official


It is “imperative to get some concrete results” in the fight against terrorism for progress in engagement with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, Türkiye’s communications director said Sunday.

“The PKK/YPG/PYD and affiliated so-called Syrian Democratic Forces pose an existential threat to our national security. It is, therefore, imperative to get some concrete results in combating terrorism,” Fahrettin Altun said in an exclusive interview with the Turkish Daily Sabah newspaper.

Underscoring that this terrorist organization targets the territorial unity and integrity of Syria, he said Türkiye expects the regime to act in accordance with the facts on the ground.

“We continue our engagement process with the regime in a quadrilateral format without preconditions and in good faith. The Syrian regime should act in the same manner for this process to produce an outcome,” Altun said, adding that the two countries are in the initial stage of determining how bilateral relations will be advanced.

He said the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria at this stage does not make any sense, noting that the Turkish presence in Syria is also a guarantee for their territorial integrity.

Regarding the refugee crisis, he said creating necessary conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees and revitalizing the political process – which the regime has obstructed – continue to be among Ankara’s main priorities in Syria.

Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).

In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and European Union – has been responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The YPG is its Syrian branch.

Ankara’s foreign policy with neighbors

Asked about the new course for Ankara’s foreign policy, Altun said “continuity is the basis of Turkish foreign policy.”

Ankara has engaged in a regional normalization process with countries including Armenia, Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, leaving behind years of strained ties.

“Today, again, we are in search of further strengthening our friendships and finding solutions to conflicting issues,” he said.

He added that Türkiye will continue developing its relations with neighboring countries based on international law while preserving its rights and interests.

Regarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comprehensive Gulf tour last week, he said Türkiye has strong historical, human and cultural ties with the friendly and brotherly Gulf countries.

“We witness that our trade volume with the Gulf region has grown more than 12 times in the past 20 years, reaching the level of $22 billion,” he said, adding that recent high-level visits between Türkiye and the Gulf have brought new areas of cooperation in several fields.

Visa issue

On the enduring problem of Turkish citizens getting Schengen and US visas, Altun reiterated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the US, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

“It can be observed that visa problems continue ever-increasingly,” he said.

“The visa problems experienced continue to be brought to the attention of the authorities of Western countries on every platform, and we continue to seek solutions.”

In 2022, approximately 15% of Schengen visa applications made through missions in Türkiye were rejected, while the rate has risen to around 50% this year.

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