Erdogan ready to send more troops to Syria, praises Russian role

Turkey is ready to send more troops into Syria, where it’s working with Russia to bring an end to more than six years of civil war, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“Our soldiers on the border are ready for a mission at any moment,’’ Erdogan said at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York. He said the Turkish army, which has fought against Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants in northern Syria since August last year, will expand or reduce its forces there depending on what’s required.

Erdogan said his country, a NATO member, is “achieving a result’’ by working with Russia in Syria. He said that Turkey had extensive talks on the issue with the US during the Obama administration, “but couldn’t get any results.’’ The Turkish president, who’s due to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump on Thursday at the United Nations summit in New York, said he’ll hold further discussions with Russia’s Vladimir Putin when the two leaders have dinner next week.

Like the US, Turkey backed the rebel side in the Syrian war. Yet as Russian military intervention turned the tide in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour, Erdogan has increasingly been co-operating with Russia and Iran to stabilise the country. Coupled with Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian missile-defense system, that’s led many analysts to question Turkey’s place in the Western alliance.

‘Our Own Business’

Erdogan said the weapons deal with Russia stems from the country’s need to protect itself. “We’ll take care of our own business if we can’t get the arms we want from NATO countries,’’ he said.

Erdogan spoke about the other pillar of Turkey’s relationship with the West: Its application to join the European Union, which dates back several decades and has largely stalled in recent years. Asked why Turkey didn’t just abandon the attempt, he said it was a “good question,” but insisted that his government won’t be the one to walk away from membership talks. He likened the relationship to a wrestling match. “We’ve never run away from the mat,” he said. “Let them be the ones to do it. Let them take the decision.”

European criticism of Erdogan’s government has often focused on its suppression of criticism. Turkey has 188 journalists in jail, more than any other country, according to Reporters Without Borders. It ranks 155 out of 179 countries in the organization’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The president said that most of the jailed reporters cited by human-rights organisations “aren’t journalists whatsoever. Most of these are terrorists. Many have been involved in bombing incidents or burglary.” It’s his standard response to questions on the topic.

Kurdish ‘Mistake’

Erdogan also accused Turkey’s western allies of double standards. He said that the leader of an Islamist movement blamed for instigating a failed coup against his government last year remains at liberty in the US, while Turkey’s efforts to get Germany to take judicial action against Kurdish militants based in that country have been rebuffed.

In recent years, Turkey’s ties with the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq have flourished even as Erdogan’s government cracked down on Kurdish movements seeking self-rule at home. That could change if the Iraqi Kurds press ahead with a referendum on independence scheduled for next week.

Turkey will discuss sanctions against the Iraqi Kurdish authorities if the vote goes ahead, Erdogan said. He’s already brought forward a meeting of his National Security Council, which will discuss the Turkish response on Friday. Turkey, like Iran and Syria, has its own Kurdish minority, and opposes any move toward Kurdish self-determination on the grounds it could spread.

“We have said Iraq must never be partitioned,’’ Erdogan said. Turkey sent envoys to Iraqi Kurdish leaders “to say ‘don’t ever fall into this mistake’,’’ he said.

“Unfortunately they have made this mistake.’’