'Syria safe zone vital for stability, Syrians' return'

                               By Sibel Ugurlu</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday said a proposed safe zone in northern Syria is important both for the country's stability and displaced Syrians' return home.</p>  <p>  It should emerge at upcoming talks whether Turkish and U.S. views are overlapping or not about the ideas of a Syrian safe zone, something first brought up by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the beginning of the Syria crisis, Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press conference with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov.</p>  <p>&quot;The first talk about that was held between our Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler and [his U.S. counterpart] Joseph Dunford in Brussels,&quot; Cavusoglu said.</p>  <p>&quot;A safe zone in northern Syria is important for stability, the return home of Syrians including our Kurdish brothers, and the fight against terrorism,&quot; he added.</p>  <p>The safe zone issue was first brought to the global stage when Erdogan visited the U.S. nearly six years ago, in May 2013.</p>  <p>Erdogan proposed a three-stage plan that included a no-fly zone, a safe zone for civilians, and launching a joint land operation along with coalition forces.</p>  <p>A safe zone could enable all internally displaced Syrians to gather as well as civilians taking refuge in Turkey to return and settle.  </p>  <p>In a surprising move, U.S. President Donald Trump last month announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria.</p>  <p>Trump made the decision during a phone call with Erdogan, in which the two leaders agreed on the need for more effective coordination over the civil war-torn country.</p>  <p>In a Monday phone call, Erdogan and Trump discussed the idea of establishing a terror-free safe zone in northern Syria. 

UPDATE – Turkey not deterred by threats, says foreign minister

               UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER AND BACKGROUND</p>  <p>By Diyar Guldogan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Ankara will not shrink from threats by U.S. President Donald Trump, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday.</p>  <p>&quot;We have repeatedly said that we are never afraid of threats. Threatening Turkey economically will get you nowhere,&quot; Cavusoglu told a news conference with his Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn in the Turkish capital Ankara.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu's remarks came in response to Trump's threat to attack Turkey's economy if Ankara hits the terror group PKK/YPG during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.</p>  <p>&quot;Strategic partners&quot; should not communicate through social media, Cavusoglu added, in clear reference to the perennially tweeting U.S. leader.</p>  <p>&quot;[The US] Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,&quot; Trump tweeted on Sunday, conflating “Kurds” with the terrorist PKK/YPG, a confusion that Turkey has repeatedly criticized.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu said Turkey is not the enemy of the Kurdish people, adding that Kurds should not be equated with terrorist organizations. </p>  <p>He added there is serious pressure on Trump not to withdraw from Syria.</p>  <p>Following the surprise announcement in December that U.S. forces would leave Syria, U.S. officials said withdrawal was conditional on the U.S. not attacking the &quot;Kurds,&quot; meaning the terrorist PKK/YPG.</p>  <p>Turkish officials attacked the U.S. conflation of &quot;Kurds&quot; with the terror group, saying a forthcoming Turkish operation in Syria targets a terrorist group which threatens Arabs, Turkmens, and Kurds alike in Syria.</p>  <p>In its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives. The YPG/PYD is its Syrian branch.

-Border safe zone, Idlib

Cavusoglu said Ankara is not opposed to a 30-kilometer safe zone inside Syria near Turkey’s border.

"We’re not against this idea. What is our problem? There is a terror corridor beyond our border. There is a terrorist organization that wants to divide Syria. This terrorist organization poses a threat to us. We are targeting this terrorist organization," he added.

About Idlib, Syria, Cavusoglu said that if it becomes a "terrorist nest," the Bashar al-Assad regime and the countries that support it are responsible.

He added that the Idlib deal reached between Turkey and Russia last September, calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib's de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited, has been "successfully" implemented despite difficult conditions.

Under the deal, opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing renewed fighting.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.​

'Turkey, Luxembourg have no political problems'

             By Diyar Guldogan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Turkey and Luxembourg have no political problems and enjoy &quot;friendly&quot; relations, Turkey's foreign minister said on Monday.</p>  <p>&quot;We do not have any political problems with Luxembourg, and we are enjoying friendly and allied relations,&quot; Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference with his Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn in the Turkish capital Ankara.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu said these healthy ties are also reflected in economic relations, as Luxembourg has around $10 billion investments in Turkey, and Turkish firms have invested $1.5 billion in Luxembourg.</p>  <p>&quot;The number of [Luxembourg] tourists coming to Turkey is rising significantly,&quot; Cavusoglu said.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu said besides bilateral relations, the top diplomats also discussed the fight against terrorism, Turkey's EU accession process, and Syria. </p>  <p>Asselborn, for his part, said this is his first visit he has paid to Turkey since the 2016 defeated coup.</p>  <p>He said relations with Turkey are &quot;friendly,&quot; and Luxembourg supports Turkey's EU bid. </p>  <p>Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005. However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.</p>  <p>Asselborn on Tuesday will visit various projects in Turkey's southeastern Gaziantep and Kilis provinces for Syrians under temporary protection and speak with local officials.

Turkey not deterred by threats, says foreign minister

             <p>By Diyar Guldogan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Ankara will not shrink from threats by U.S. President Donald Trump, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday.</p>  <p>&quot;We have repeatedly said that we are never afraid of threats. Threatening Turkey economically will get you nowhere,&quot; Cavusoglu told a news conference with his Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn in the Turkish capital Ankara.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu's remarks came in response to Trump's threat to attack Turkey's economy if Ankara hits the terror group PKK/YPG during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.</p>  <p>&quot;Strategic partners&quot; should not communicate through social media, Cavusoglu added, in clear reference to the perennially tweeting U.S. leader.</p>  <p>&quot;[The US] Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,&quot; Trump tweeted on Sunday, conflating “Kurds” with the terrorist PKK/YPG, a confusion that Turkey has repeatedly criticized.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu said Turkey is not the enemy of the Kurdish people.</p>  <p>He added there is serious pressure on Trump not to withdraw from Syria.</p>  <p>Following the surprise announcement in December that U.S. forces would leave Syria, U.S. officials said withdrawal was conditional on the U.S. not attacking the &quot;Kurds,&quot; meaning the terrorist PKK/YPG.</p>  <p>Turkish officials attacked the U.S. conflation of &quot;Kurds&quot; with the terror group, saying a forthcoming Turkish operation in Syria targets a terrorist group which threatens Arabs, Turkmens, and Kurds alike in Syria.</p>  <p>In its 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives. The YPG/PYD is its Syrian branch.</p>      

UPDATE 2 – Turkish, US foreign ministers discuss Syria on phone

ADDS TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER'S REMARKS

By Tevfik Durul

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s foreign minister and his U.S. counterpart spoke over the phone, Turkish diplomatic sources announced on Saturday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and Mike Pompeo discussed the latest developments in Syria, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The phone call came during Pompeo's nine-nation tour of the Middle East, which is aimed at reassuring allies following U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal decision from Syria.

"Today, we discussed the latest developments and the steps that should be taken [in Syria]," Cavusoglu said on Saturday at an event in Turkey's southern Antalya province.

Cavusoglu said Washington decided to withdraw its troops from Syria after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's firm stance against removing threat coming to Turkey from east of the Euphrates River in Syria.

He added Turkey will not seek permission from anyone on its fight against terrorist organizations.

Last December, Trump announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, claiming that American forces had defeated Daesh there.

Senior U.S. officials and lawmakers have called on Trump to not abandon the PYD/YPG as he pulls out of Syria. National Security Advisor John Bolton conditioned the exit on guarantees from Turkey not to attack the group — angering Ankara.

Turkey has criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.

  • Turkey's concerns along Syria border

State Department's deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that the two ministers agreed on the importance of continuing U.S.-Turkish consultations as part of the "deliberate and coordinated" withdrawal of American forces from Syria.

"Secretary Pompeo reiterated the United States’ commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border," said Palladino.

He added Pompeo also stressed the importance that the U.S. places on the protection of forces, namely PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of PKK terror organization.

*Servet Gunerigok in Washington, Suleyman Elcin in Antalya contributed to this story.

UPDATE – Turkish, US foreign ministers discuss Syria on phone

              ADDS US STATE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT AND BACKGROUND

By Tevfik Durul

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s foreign minister and his U.S. counterpart spoke over the phone, Turkish diplomatic sources announced on Saturday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and Mike Pompeo discussed the latest developments in Syria, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The phone call came during Pompeo's nine-nation tour of the Middle East, which is aimed at reassuring allies following U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal decision from Syria.

State Department's deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that the two ministers agreed on the importance of continuing U.S.-Turkish consultations as part of the "deliberate and coordinated" withdrawal of American forces from Syria.

"Secretary Pompeo reiterated the United States’ commitment to addressing Turkish security concerns along the Turkey-Syria border," said Palladino.

He added Pompeo also stressed the importance that the U.S. places on the protection of forces, namely PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of PKK terror organization.

Last December, Trump announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, claiming that American forces had defeated Daesh there.

Senior U.S. officials and lawmakers have called on Trump to not abandon the PYD/YPG as he pulls out of Syria. National Security Advisor John Bolton conditioned the exit on guarantees from Turkey not to attack the group — angering Ankara.

Turkey has criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.

In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. The PKK/PYD/YPG, its Syrian branch, terrorizes Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs in Syria, according to Turkish officials.

*Servet Gunerigok in Washington contributed to the story.

Luxembourg FM to pay official visit to Turkey

By Faruk Zorlu

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey's Foreign Ministry will hold a joint press conference with his Luxembourgian counterpart in capital Ankara on Monday, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet with Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn, who will pay an official visit to Turkey between Jan. 14-15., to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries, a statement from the ministry said on Saturday.

During the meeting, the two diplomats will also talk about the current regional and international issues as well as the EU and Turkey’s EU accession process.

Later, Asselborn will visit severe projects in Turkey's southeastern Gaziantep and southern Kilis province for Syrians under temporary protection and hold a talk with the local authorities.

'Turkey's possible Syria op unrelated to US withdrawal'

             By Diyar Guldogan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Turkey's expected counter-terrorism operation east of the Euphrates River in Syria is not related to the U.S. withdrawal from the country, Foreign Minster Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.</p>  <p>&quot;Our operation against the YPG/PKK is not related to whether the U.S. withdraws or not,&quot; Cavusoglu told news channel NTV.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement that an operation was coming came well before U.S. President Donald Trump's surprise decision last month to pull out U.S. troops out of Syria.</p>  <p>&quot;We didn’t know that the U.S. would withdraw [from Syria]. However, whether it withdraws or not, we will do what is necessary against a terrorist organization that poses a threat to our national security,&quot; he added. </p>  <p>On Dec. 12, Erdogan announced that a Turkish operation was imminent to save the region from the terrorist PKK/PYD, also known as the PKK/YPG.</p>  <p>Later, the president decided to delay the operation, but Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkey is ready to take action very soon to eliminate the &quot;terror corridor&quot; in northern Syria.</p>  <p>&quot;Turkey is determined on this issue,&quot; Cavusoglu said, adding that Turkey will decide on its timeline for the operation.</p>  <p>&quot;We will not seek permission from anyone on this issue,&quot; he added. </p>  <p>Ankara has criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.</p>  <p>Over the last week top U.S. officials said that American troops would not withdraw from northeastern Syria without a guarantee that Turkey would not attack “Kurds” there, meaning the PKK/PYD. Turkish officials condemned the remarks.</p>  <p>In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. The PKK/PYD/YPG, its Syrian branch, terrorizes Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs in Syria, according to Turkish officials.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu also said Erdogan will have a bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. </p>  <p>He added that Turkish, Russian, and Iranian leaders will also meet to discuss Syria under the Astana format, saying that Moscow will propose a timeline for the meeting.

UPDATE – PYD terror ties make US leaving Syria harder: Turkey

UPDATE WITH MORE REMARKS BY FOREIGN MINISTER

By Diyar Guldogan

ANKARA (AA) – As it tries to end its involvement with the terrorist PKK/PYD in Syria, the U.S. is having problems withdrawing its forces, said Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday.

"We see that the U.S. has some difficulties while withdrawing [from Syria],” Mevlut Cavusoglu told parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“After being so intertwined and engaged with a terrorist organization, it is not that easy to leave that terrorist organization," he added, referring to the terrorist PKK/PYD.

Ankara has long criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh in Syria, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.

In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. The PKK/PYD is its Syrian branch.

Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey has repeatedly rejected U.S. claims that Washington will not withdraw its troops from northeastern Syria without a guarantee from Ankara that it will not attack “Kurds." Turkey's leadership has stressed that equating "Kurds" with the terrorist PKK/PYD is illicit.

Cavusoglu pointed to Turkey prioritizing and supporting Syria's territorial integrity and stability.

Turkey has taken all measures to counter terror threats from the PKK/PYD coming from Syrian territory, he said.

"As we took steps in Afrin, as we took steps with Operation Euphrates Shield west of the Euphrates River to the al-Bab region, so we would never shrink from taking the same steps east of the Euphrates," he stressed.

Turkey has said it will soon launch an operation against PKK/YPD terrorists east of the Euphrates in Syria, following two successful similar operations since 2016.

Cavusoglu added that under the Astana process, Turkey has been coordinating with Russia and Iran on Syria.

On the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Cavusoglu said there have been "no problems faced so far with implementation of the Idlib deal, and Turkey has no wish to face problems going forward."

  • Yemen and Mediterranean hydrocarbon drilling

Turning to the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Cavusoglu said finding a solution to the Yemen issue will be one of Turkey's priorities in 2019.

Under Turkey's term presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said Cavusoglu, "we will hold an OIC Yemen contact group meeting at the end of January or beginning of February."

Cavusoglu said that they would set the date of the meeting with Yemen's foreign minister.

He added: "We will continue to make contributions to ending the war in Yemen. It's not enough to support UN moves [in Yemen]. We will make contribution as Turkey."

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and several of its Arab allies have been waging a massive military campaign against the Houthi rebel group, which in 2014 overran much of Yemen.

The campaign has devastated much of the country’s infrastructure, leading the UN to describe the situation in Yemen as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times.”

Since the conflict began more than three years ago, the Houthis have fired more than 200 rockets into Saudi territory, which have left scores dead and hundreds injured, according to Saudi officials.

On the Cyprus issue, Cavusoglu said European Parliament elections set for this May have forestalled the start of any Cyprus negotiations.

But energy exploration around the island will continue, he pledged, saying that Turkey would begin "drilling around Cyprus with a new platform."

Turkey's first drilling vessel, the Fatih, did its first deep drilling off Antalya on Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast last October, he added.

"Our second vessel is about to reach the area. We will send it near Cyprus and start drilling," said Cavusoglu.

Turkey wants to protect Turkish Cypriots' rights to carry out hydrocarbon drilling, he added.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources in the area.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.

PYD terror ties make US leaving Syria harder: Turkey

             <p>By Diyar Guldogan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - As it tries to end its involvement with the terrorist PKK/PYD in Syria, the U.S. is having problems withdrawing its forces, said Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday.</p>  <p>&quot;We see that the U.S. has some difficulties while withdrawing [from Syria],” Mevlut Cavusoglu told parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. </p>  <p>“After being so intertwined and engaged with a terrorist organization, it is not that easy to leave that terrorist organization,&quot; he added, referring to the terrorist PKK/PYD.</p>  <p>Ankara has long criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh in Syria, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.</p>  <p>In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. The PKK/PYD is its Syrian branch.</p>  <p>Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey has repeatedly rejected U.S. claims that Washington will not withdraw its troops from northeastern Syria without a guarantee from Ankara that it won’t attack “Kurds.&quot; Turkey's leadership has stressed that equating &quot;Kurds&quot; with the terrorist PKK/PYD is illicit. </p>  <p>Cavusoglu added that under the Astana process, Turkey has been coordinating with Russia and Iran on Syria.</p>  <p>On the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Cavusoglu said there have been &quot;no problems faced so far with implementation of the Idlib deal, and Turkey has no wish to face problems going forward.&quot; </p>  <p>Turning to the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Cavusoglu said finding a solution to the Yemen issue will be one of Turkey's priorities in 2019.</p>  <p>On the Cyprus issue, he said European Parliament elections set for this May have forestalled the start of any Cyprus negotiations.</p>