By Baris Seckin
ROME (AA) – NATO did not raise any objection to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile system whereas the U.S. criticized the move, Turkish foreign minister said on Saturday.
As part of his visit to Italy to attend the 5th MED 2019-Mediterranean Forum from Dec. 5 to 7, Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to the local daily Corriere della Sera on a variety of topics, including Turkey’s S-400 purchase, its anti-terror operation in northern Syria and recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
"The U.S. criticized us, however, NATO did not say anything. On the contrary, NATO secretary-general [Jens Stoltenberg] repeatedly stated all countries have right to buy the weapon and defense system it wants," he said.
- Syria and anti-terror operations
Cavusoglu said many false stories accusing Turkey of changing the demographic structure of northern Syria, creating a humanitarian crisis or even reviving the Daesh terror group were circulating on international media, but they were only smear campaigns by those seeking to establish a state in the region.
He said the international community should focus on the reconstruction of the war-ridden region, not the smear campaign against Turkey, adding the Ankara administration was ready to collaborate with all countries.
Asked about any possible contact with Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Cavusoglu said: “Everybody’s help is needed for the return of refugees to Syria. That might be an option.”
However, he emphasized Assad could not be a unifying factor for the resolution of the Syrian conflict as he used chemical weapons and the blood of half a million people were at his hands.
On Operation Peace Spring, Turkey's counter-terrorism campaign in northeastern Syria, the top diplomat said the Ankara administration initially sought to launch the operation a year ago.
However, the U.S. asked Turkey to wait till the withdrawal of its troops from Syria and then the former came up with a safe zone idea.
Turkey accepted the U.S. proposal, however, he said the suggestion was nothing but a stalling tactic and Turkey eventually launched the anti-terror operation.
Turkey on Oct. 9 launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
Under two separate deals with the U.S. and Russia, Turkey paused the operation to allow the withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the planned Syria safe zone.
Prior to this, Turkey led two successful operations, Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield, in northern Syria to rid the region of terrorists.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The YPG is the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
- Mediterranean and drilling
When asked if Turkey will use force amid its search and drilling activities off Cyprus, Cavusoglu said Ankara rejected unilateral steps in the Eastern Mediterranean region and suggested the establishment of a commission that will distribute revenues, yet no party took side with collaboration calls.
Turkey does not want a military escalation in the region, Cavusoglu warned, adding it was ready to take any measure to defend its vessels operating there.
- FETO terror group
On a question regarding the arrests and dismissals following July 15, 2016 defeated coup, Cavusoglu asserted that the government had the responsibility to defend its citizens, and added the FETO terrorists directly struck the parliament with fighter jets.
FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen is accused of orchestrating the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
* Writing by Ali Murat Alhas