UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS BY ERDOGAN, IRANIAN AND RUSSIAN LEADERS
By Diyar Guldogan, Sena Guler, and Jeyhun Aliyev
ANKARA (AA) - The YPG/PYD terrorist organization poses the "biggest" threat to Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the capital Ankara on Monday.
"The PKK, and its extension the YPG/PYD, is the biggest threat to Syria's future. As long as the PKK/PYD presence in the country continues, neither Syria nor our region can find peace," Erdogan told a news conference after a trilateral meeting on Syria with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
Erdogan said the summit was fruitful and led to important decisions towards a political solution in war-torn Syria.
He added that the leaders have the "same sensitivity" on the importance of protecting Syria's territorial integrity.
Erdogan said Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran stressed that supporting terrorists under the pretext of fighting Daesh is "unacceptable" -- likely referring to U.S. support for the YPG/PYD, which it has rationalized using that pretext.
Erdogan said Turkey cannot allow a terror corridor along its border with Syria, referring to the YPG/PYD presence there.
He added that Turkey's main aim is to ensure a "peace corridor" in northern Syria.
Erdogan said the rising tension in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib was one of the main topics of the meeting, mentioning the ongoing land and air operations in the province since April.
He said the attacks took casualties of almost 1,000 civilians and pushed hundreds of thousands of people to seek shelter in other countries.
Saying Ankara cannot ignore “a new tragedy” affecting 4 million people near its border, Erdogan said such a development would affect not only Turkey but all of Europe.
“We stressed need for concrete measures to ensure the safety of civilians and military personnel of guarantor countries in the field,” Erdogan added.
He said the leaders also discussed ongoing efforts for the establishment of calm in the field, providing conditions needed for the return of the refugees, and finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Syria.
On a committee to draw up a new constitution for Syria, Erdogan said the summit will push the committee to start its work as soon as possible.
He said the countries need to focus on the safe and voluntary return of Syrians to their homeland.
“A peace corridor east of the Euphrates will be a protected port for the refugees. We believe that we can resettle at least 2 million Syrian brothers and sisters, who took refuge in our country, in this region,” Erdogan said.
He added that if the corridor could be expanded to Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor and Raqqa provinces, the number of refugees returning to their country could reach over 3 million.
He also said Turkey is ready to undertake any responsibility for building new residential areas for the Syrians returning home.
Erdogan said that Ankara wants to build residential areas in a 450-kilometer (279-mile) safe zone to be established in northern Syria.
He said if the desired result on the zone is not achieved with the U.S. within two weeks, Turkey will start applying its own action plan.
On Aug. 7, Turkish and U.S. military officials agreed to set up a safe zone in northern Syria and develop a peace corridor to facilitate the movement of displaced Syrians who want to return home. They also agreed to establish a joint operations center.
The agreement also envisaged setting up necessary security measures to address Turkey's security concerns, including clearing the zone of the terrorist YPG/PKK, a group the U.S. has sometimes been allied with, over Turkey’s objections.
Turkey has accused the U.S. of dragging its feet and having a different concept for the safe zone.
Rouhani stressed that Iran, Turkey, and Russia have a common view on Syria's territorial integrity and unitary structure.
"We are all against foreign intervention in Syria. The U.S. supported terrorists in Syria and tried to divide Syria. This is unacceptable," Rouhani said.
He also blasted the U.S. decision to recognize Syria’s occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
"The U.S. is doing this although it has no rights to do so. This shows how ill-intentioned the U.S. is towards the Syrian people," Rouhani said, adding that all three countries respect its territorial integrity.
He noted that the countries agree that the fight against terrorism should continue.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation this March officially recognizing the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory, triggering a firestorm of criticism.
Israel occupies roughly two-thirds of the wider Golan Heights as a de facto result of the 1967 Middle East war. It moved to formally annex the territory in 1981 -- an action unanimously rejected at the time by the UN Security Council.
"There are terrorists east of the Euphrates River in Syria, and the area is controlled by the U.S.," said Rouhani.
Rouhani stressed that the constitutional committee in Syria was formed, adding that he hopes it starts its work as soon as possible to revise the constitution.
The Iranian president also said that he is pleased that Iraq and Lebanon have joined the Astana peace process as observers.
Putin, for his part, said that diplomats meticulously drew up the constitutional committee list, and did the procedural work, adding that the list was approved.
Peace in Syria is only possible through political dialogue in the country, he said.
Putin also agreed with Turkey's Erdogan and Iran's Rouhani to take steps to reduce the tension in Syria's Idlib.
Referring to the recent attacks on Saudi oil refineries, Putin said: "Saudi Arabia needs to make wise governmental decision as Iran once did by buying the S-300 and as President Erdogan did by buying the most advanced S-400 [missile] systems from Russia.”