Russia, US failed to clear militia from Syria border: Turkish FM

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Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. Cavusoglu has called on NATO to support Turkey's security concerns, accusing allies of backing Baltic countries' security concerns but dismissing threats to Turkey from Syrian Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

(AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister charged Friday that the United States and Russia have failed to meet promises to clear Syria’s border with Turkey of Kurdish militants, forcing Ankara to intervene.

Speaking at the Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said that Turkey was seeking reconciliation with Syria’s government to facilitate the return of refugees, cooperate in fighting extremists and to end the conflict in Syria.

Cavusoglu’s comments came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed last month to launch a new land invasion of northern Syria to target militant Kurdish groups, following a Nov. 13 explosion in Istanbul that killed six people. The Turkish military has launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in retaliation.

The Kurdish groups denied involvement in the bombing. They said Turkish strikes have killed civilians and are threatening the fight against the Islamic State group.

“We reached an understanding with the United States and the Russian Federation,” Cavusoglu said. “They committed to push those terrorists further south from our border. … But since then, they haven’t met their commitments.

He was referring to separate deals reached with Moscow and Washington in 2019, under which both agreed to push Syrian Kurdish fighters from a wide swath of territory south of Turkey’s border.

“We need to continue our operation to clean these areas from terrorists and terrorist organizations,” the minister said.

Turkey has carried out a series of incursions into Syria since 2016 and already controls parts of northern Syria.

Both Moscow and Washington, which have forces in northern Syria, have voiced opposition to a possible new Turkish incursion.

Turkey, which once sought Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal from office and has strongly backed the opposition in the Syrian conflict, has more recently said it was open to dialogue and reconciliation with Damascus. Turkish and Syrian security officials have held a series of talks, Turkish officials say.

Cavusoglu said Turkey needs to “engage” with Syria’s government for a “voluntary, safe and dignified return” of some of the 3.6 million Syrians who found refuge in Turkey since war erupted in their homeland more than 11 years ago.

“We need to also cooperate in our fight against terrorist organizations without any discrimination,” Cavusoglu said.

He added: “I hope the (Syrian) regime will understand this: Without such reconciliation, there will be no lasting peace and stability in the country.”

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