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Davutoglu: Assad's removal pre-condition for Turkish boots in Syria

October 7, 2014 at 11:48 am

Turkey is prepared to send ground forces to help eradicate ISIL in Syria if it gets international assurances for its borders and the removal of the Syrian regime, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday.

In an exclusive interview with CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour, the prime minister said that without the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Syrian regime’s ongoing offensives posed as big a threat as that caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIL or ISIS.

“We are ready to do everything as long as there is a clear strategy that after ISIS we can be sure that our borders will be protected,” he said. “We don’t want the (Assad) regime on our border any more, pushing people against – towards Turkey.”

“If ISIS goes, another radical organization may come in as long as Assad stays in his seat,” he added.

Davutoglu emphasized the need for a comprehensive international strategy to defeat the terrorist elements threatening the entire region and displacing millions of people, especially in the last few months.

“So our approach should be … not just to punish- to satisfy our public opinion- to punish one terrorist organization, but to eliminate all terrorist threats in the future, and also to eliminate all brutal crimes against humanity committed by the regime,” he said.

Turkey has been pushing for the establishment of a no-fly zone and safe haven in Syria near the Turkish border as a priority which it sees necessary if the international U.S.-led coalition wants to join forces with Ankara against ISIL.

The coalition recently mounted airstrikes against the terror group in Iraq and Syria.

“We want to have a no-fly zone. We want to have a safe haven on our border. Otherwise, all these burdens will continue to go on the shoulders of Turkey and other neighbouring countries,” Davutoglu said.

Obama administration officials have reiterated that neither a no-fly zone nor a safe haven within Syria is currently part of the coalition’s approach to defeating ISIL.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “Our position hasn’t changed. Our focus is on ISIL. We certainly are continuing to support the Syrian opposition, but I don’t have anything new on that regard.”

The recent massive influx of Syrian Kurds from the border town of Kobani was one of the main underlying reasons for the two preconditions for Turkey’s joining coalition forces in a possible ground operation, he said.

More than 180,000 Kurdish refugees have taken shelter in Turkey since the country opened its border Sept. 19, according to Davutoglu.

“Those who request something from us should understand our needs as well. This is not a one-sided relation,” he added.

The head of the Turkish government objected to concentrating on only one region in Syria or Iraq and ignoring others, stressing the need to formulate an integrated strategy to root out the terrorist threat in the wider Middle East.

“If there is a need of intervention in Kobani, we are saying that there is a need of intervention in all Syria, along all of our border,” he said.

The Turkish parliament accepted a motion Thursday authorizing military action in Syria and Iraq against any terrorist group, including ISIL.

The motion allows military incursions into Syria and Iraq against a threat to Turkey and allows foreign forces to use Turkish territory for possible operations against ISIL.

Asked whether Turkey would send in ground troops to save Kobani, Davutoglu reiterated that Turkey was ready to do whatever was necessary for Kobani, but said sending troops was another decision.

“We will do everything possible to help people of Kobani because they are our brothers and sisters. We don’t see them as Kurds, Turkmens or Arabs,” he said.

The Turkish premier stated that Turkey’s priorities in Kobani were to save the lives of people escaping ISIL.

“Of course, we are now working with the coalition members on what to do next against ISIS, not only in Kobani,” he said.

The prime minister also criticized what he described “a lack of proper action” by Western countries regarding the rise of radicalism in Syria, against which he said Ankara had warned them “several times.”

Davutoglu also responded to the recent row about allegations by the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden regarding weapons aid to Syrian fighters, which he called “a really unfair accusation.”

During an address at Harvard University last Thursday, Biden accused America’s key allies in the Middle East, including Turkey, of having allowed the rise of ISIL.

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” Biden said, claiming that certain Middle Eastern countries had provided “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” indiscriminately to anyone who would fight against Assad, thus instigating a Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Davutoglu said, “What we expect are two things: fairness and empathy. First empathy. The U.S. has a border with Mexico and there are two states on both sides. Is it easy to control all the border?”

In a phone call Saturday, Biden apologized to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “for any implication” that Turkey or other allies in the region supplied or facilitated the development of ISIL.