UPDATE – Turkey supports Syrian unity in anti-terror fight: Min.

                 UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM AKAR, ADDS DETAILS, EDITS THROUGHOUT </p>    <p>By Ayhan Simsek</p>    <p>MUNICH (AA) - Turkey supports the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria while conducting military operations against the terrorist PKK/YPG group, the defense minister said on Sunday.</p>    <p>Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Hulusi Akar underlined that while the U.S. is planning to withdraw from northern Syria, Turkey will continue to take measures to prevent terrorist groups from exploiting the power vacuum. </p>    <p>“While fighting terrorism, Turkey always respects territorial integrity and political unity of Syria,” he said, and stressed Ankara has no other goal than to ensure safety and security of its borders and people. </p>    <p>Akar said Turkey has recently   experienced many incidents of violations and harassing fire by the the terrorist PKK/YPG group in the border region. </p>    <p>“We already have a memorandum of understanding with Syria to fight terrorists,” he said, referring to the 1998 Adana agreement between Turkey and Syria which included provisions on the fight against terrorism. </p>    <p>“Because of the current situation in Syria, Damascus cannot fight against terrorists. So this is the reason why we are there, why we are fighting,” he said.</p>    <p>The Turkish defense minister renewed Ankara’s demand for a 440-kilometres long (273-mile) safe zone east of Euphrates, which he said should be cleared of the terrorist YPG group and patrolled by the Turkish forces. </p>    <p>Akar described Turkey’s previous military operations against Daesh and PKK/YPG terror groups in Al-Bab, Afrin, and Azaz as a big success, and said these operations enabled more than 300,000 Syrian refugees to return home. </p>    <p>He also underlined the importance of a memorandum signed last year between Turkey and Russia to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib. </p>    <p>“We are all aware that it is not an easy job, but in coordination with the Russians we are trying to do our best,” he said. </p>    <p>“It is also very important that we avoid another humanitarian disaster, influx of refugees to Turkey,” he added. </p>  <p> Akar said the joint works of Turkey and Russia had also managed to stop ceasefire violations in the area. 

Turkey supports Syrian unity in anti-terror fight: Min.

     By Ayhan Simsek</p>  <p>MUNICH (AA) - Turkey supports the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria during its fight against terror, the defense minister said on Sunday. </p> <p>Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Hulusi Akar underlined that Turkey’s priority has been the safety and security of its borders and people.  </p> <p>“While fighting terrorism, Turkey always respects territorial integrity and political unity of Syria,” he said, stressing that the military operations only targeted the terrorist activities of the PKK/YPG group. </p> <p> The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years and has been responsible for the death of nearly 40,000 people. The YPG is its Syrian offshoot.

The defense minister underlined that the 1998 Adana agreement between Turkey and Syria included provisions on the fight against terrorism.

“We already have a memorandum of understanding with Syria to fight terrorists. Because of the current situation in Syria, Damascus cannot fight against terrorists. So this is the reason why we are there, why we are fighting,” he said.

Turkey: Safe zone should be cleared of terrorist PKK/YPG

                     By Ayhan Simsek </p>    <p>MUNICH (AA) - A safe zone in northern Syria should be patrolled by the Turkish forces and be cleared of the terrorist PKK/YPG group, Turkey's defense minister said on Saturday. </p>    <p>Hulusi Akar held separate meetings with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, U.S. special envoy to Syria James Jeffrey and a group of U.S. senators on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. </p>    <p>The minister raised Turkey’s expectations from the U.S. and underlined that the terrorist PKK/YPG activities in northern Syria has been the biggest hurdle in a better U.S.-Turkey relationship.</p>    <p>“PKK terrorists do not represent our Kurdish brothers. There is no difference between the PKK and the YPG,” Akar told senior U.S. officials during his meetings. </p>    <p>The Turkish minister underlined that clearing Turkey-Syria border area from the PKK and its Syrian branch YPG has been a top priority for Ankara, in order to ensure the security of Turkish people. </p>    <p>“A 440-kilometres long (273-mile)  safe zone in east of Euphrates should be cleared of the terrorist YPG group and should be patrolled by the Turkish forces,” he stressed. </p>    <p>Akar also underlined that Turkey would never allow a terrorist state or terror corridor at its southern border.</p>    <p>The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years and has been responsible for the death of nearly 40,000 people.

Germany rejects US call to leave Iran nuclear deal

                                    By Ayhan Simsek</p>  <p>MUNICH (AA) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected U.S. calls to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and cancel a controversial gas pipeline project with Russia.</p>  <p>Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Merkel criticized Iran’s policies towards Israel, its ballistic missile program and its involvement in Syria and Yemen, but she also defended the nuclear deal with Tehran.</p>  <p>“Would canceling the only remaining agreement with Iran help our common goal to contain its negative impact?” Merkel asked, and reaffirmed that Germany will stay in the deal signed in 2015.</p>  <p>Her remarks came after the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on European allies to leave the deal and join Washington’s diplomatic and economic pressure campaign against Iran.</p>  <p>Merkel also dismissed U.S. calls to stop the construction of Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian gas to Germany directly across the Baltic Sea.</p>  <p>She argued that Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not make Europe dependent on Russia, as Europe has many energy terminals to receive more LNG from the U.S.</p>  <p>“As Germany will phase out coal and nuclear power, we will certainly be an interesting market for the natural gas in the next couple of years,” she said.  </p>  <p>Merkel also warned that abandoning trade deals with Russia would make other powers like China to benefit from this.

Germany: Disarmament talks should also include China

                     By Ayhan Simsek </p>    <p>MUNICH (AA) - Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested broader talks on global disarmament that would include China, after the collapse of a landmark nuclear arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia. </p>    <p>&quot;Disarmament is something that we all have to deal with,” the German leader said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. </p>    <p>“We would be glad if such talks were held not just between the United States and Russia but also with China,” she said. </p>    <p>Her remarks came ahead of a planned international disarmament conference in Berlin next month, which would focus on new advanced weapons systems. </p>    <p>The U.S. and Russia abandoned the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear (INF) treaty early this month, after Washington accused Moscow of violating the treaty. </p>    <p>The treaty, signed in 1987 between the U.S. and Russia, was seen as a cornerstone of European security in the post-Cold War era. </p>    <p>It prohibited both countries from possessing and testing ground launch missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. 

US troops withdrawal to have serious outcome: Report

      By Ayhan Simsek </p> <p>BERLIN (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will likely have “tremendous geopolitical consequences”, according to an annual report compiled by a global security forum. </p> <p>Trump’s decision would leave a vacuum in the region, and this is likely to be filled by powers including Russia, Turkey and Iran, experts predicted in the report released ahead of the 55th Munich Security Conference. </p> <p>The 101-page report, which included research by leading experts and think-tanks, underlined that with the recent developments on Syria, the European Union has seen its influence mostly sidelined. </p> <p>“This becomes particularly clear when looking at the fate of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, which now depends largely on Turkey and Russia and their de-escalation agreement aiming to prevent a major military offensive against the town,” the report said. </p> <p>The report identified the Syrian civil war as one of most serious conflicts of 2019, based on an assessment by the International Crisis Group. </p> <p>It also warned of growing risk of confrontation involving Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Israel, and Iran.</p> <p>“The first three share a common view of the government in Tehran as a threat that has been emboldened for too long and whose regional aspirations need curbing. The risk of an accidental clash originating in Yemen, in the Persian Gulf, in Syria, or in Iraq cannot be discounted,” the report said. </p> <p>Munich Security Conference, the world’s most influential security forum, will be held in the southern German city of Munich between Feb. 15-17.</p> <p>More than 35 heads of government and state, around 50 foreign ministers and 30 defense ministers from all over the world will attend the conference. </p> <p>U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are among the participants. 

Munich Security Conference to focus on global threats

     By Ayhan Simsek</p>  <p>BERLIN (AA) - This year’s Munich Security Conference will focus on U.S.-Russia tensions, transatlantic relations and the future of European Union, its chairman Wolfgang Ischinger said on Thursday.</p>  <p>The German diplomat, who is heading the world’s biggest security conference, held a news conference in Berlin for foreign journalists. </p>  <p>“We are seriously concerned about the future of liberal international order,” he said, adding that new challenges, such as the strengthening of nationalist and xenophobic centrifugal forces, were threatening the rules-based international order. </p>  <p>Ischinger said, more than 100 leading figures, including presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers from all over the world, will attend the Munich Security Conference, to be held in Munich on Feb 15-17.</p>  <p>He expressed hope that the conference would also give an opportunity for senior U.S. and Russian officials to hold talks on the future of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). </p>  <p>But, he acknowledged that developments so far do not give much hope for an agreement that could preserve the INF treaty. </p>  <p>Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were among the leaders who confirmed their attendance and were expected to present their vision on the future of European Union. 

Turkish minister rebukes ‘Turkey versus Kurds’ comments

By Nilay Kar Onum

ANKARA (AA) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday rebuked a moderator’s “Turkey versus Kurds” comments during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference, clarifying Turkey was not against Kurds, but it only opposes all terrorist organizations.

Speaking at the panel titled “Widening Gulf,” Cavusoglu told moderator Lyse Doucet, who is also the BBC’s chief international correspondent, “I have to disagree [with] your ‘Turkey versus Kurds' terminology.

“We are not against Kurds in Turkey, we are not against Kurds in Iran, in Iraq and Syria.

“We have 350,000 Syrian Kurds actually forced by YPG to leave. None of them are able to go back.

“We are against PKK. We are against PJAK. We are against YPG. We are against Daesh. We are against Al Qaeda. We are against al-Nusra, all the terrorist organizations,” he said.

In response, Doucet said: “Your point is taken.”

Cavusoglu also said it was a “big mistake” to support “a terrorist organization in order to defeat another one”.

“Many, many years ago, the countries who supported Taliban in Afghanistan against Russia, for instance, and some other countries, are now fighting all these terrorist organizations [including] Taliban themselves in Afghanistan.

“Why did you support these terrorist organizations against another country?

“I don’t here legitimize what other countries did in Afghanistan but supporting a terrorist organization against another terrorist organization is a big mistake and risking the future of the country, if you care about the future of Syria.

“It is also risking the territorial integrity [of Syria]. We have to be very vigilant here,” he said.

He also criticized the U.S. for giving military support to terror group YPG, which is the armed Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organization, which has waged a more than 30-year-war against the Turkish state, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, including those of women and children.

“Why did the United States support YPG? Why did the United States give that many weapons to YPG to defeat Daesh?

“But we saw [it] in Raqqah how they cooperated together and how they made the deals," the foreign minister added.

Relations between Turkey and the U.S. have been strained over U.S. support for the terrorist group PYD/YPG/PKK in northern Syria, with the U.S. calling the group a "reliable ally" in the fight against Daesh, amid strong Turkish objections.

During Friday’s talks between Cavusoglu and his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson, Ankara and Washington have “reached an understanding” to normalize ties following a period of tensions.

UPDATE -Turkey gave the US another chance: FM Cavusoglu

ADDS MORE QUOTES FROM FM CAVUSOGLU

By Ayhan Simsek

MUNICH (AA) – The U.S. and Turkey will either normalize relations or bilateral ties will grow even worse, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Sunday.

Speaking to journalists during the Munich Security Conference, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey has lost confidence in the U.S. due to Washington’s support for the PYD/PKK terrorist group in Syria.

"Our relations with the U.S. have been going through a critical period. Either we are going to normalize relations, put relations back on track, or they will get even worse,” he stressed.

Cavusoglu said that during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara last week, the sides agreed to establish two mechanisms, with the goal of addressing issues of disagreement between the two NATO allies.

“One is on bilateral issues,” he said, explaining that this mechanism would particularly focus on Ankara’s expectations from Washington regarding the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and its U.S.-based leader, who orchestrated a defeated coup in 2016.

Ankara has sought the extradition from the U.S. of Fetullah Gulen since the July 2016 coup bid — which took 250 lives and left 2,200 injured — but without success.

Mentioning the YPG/PKK, the terrorist PYD/PKK’s armed wing, he added: “The second one is on the situation in Syria, and how they are going to meet our concerns, how the YPG is going to leave Manbij, and how we coordinate this together, and how those [Syrian] towns and cities are going to be governed, by whom, and who is going to ensure the security of these cities and towns.”

Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained over U.S. support for the terrorist group PYD/PKK in northern Syria, with the U.S. viewing the group as a “reliable partner” in the fight against Daesh, against strong Turkish objections.

-'US must keep its promises'

Cavusoglu underlined that the normalization of ties between Ankara and Washington depends of the U.S. keeping its promises.

“You can say that we gave another chance to bilateral relations,” he said.

“From our side we didn’t do anything wrong. They can’t claim that Turkey actually undermined bilateral relations. They can’t say that Turkey acted hostilely towards the U.S.,” he added.

He said that, under the new mechanism, senior Turkish and American officials will hold their first working group meeting in the first half of March.

“Let’s see how they’re going to deliver,” he said, warning that if they do not deliver, “then we have to deal with that.”

-‘The YPG used US arms in terror attacks'

Cavusoglu said one of Ankara’s central demands of Washington is that it take back the U.S. weapons it gave to the PYD/PKK.

Cavusoglu said this has been a serious concern for Ankara, as the PYD/PKK tried to smuggle some of these weapons into Turkey.

"And we also caught some of them in the hands of PKK terrorists in Turkey, they were using them to attack our security personnel and also civilians,” he said.

As Daesh has lost its control in most of the region, there is no other explanation for any additional arms supplies, he noted.

“And the weapons delivered to them should be taken back,” he stressed.

Cavusoglu also insisted that the YPG, the terrorist PYD/PKK’s armed wing, should leave Manbij, a predominantly Arab town with a strategic position west of the Euphrates River.

"The YPG cannot control predominantly Arab cities. They have to leave,” he stressed.

He said the U.S. side has long promised Turkey that the YPG would leave Manbij, but so far has not kept this promise.

As Turkish leaders have said the current Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch will eventually move from Afrin, Syria to Manbij, the presence of the terrorist PYD/PKK and U.S. forces in Manbij has also been a thorny issue.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove terrorist groups, including the PYD/PKK and Daesh, from northwestern Syria.

The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU, has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, killing nearly 40,000 people.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the Syrian operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.