Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday commented on the Khashoggi case, the US’ military presence in Syria, and a possible extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
According to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Washington is considering pulling troops out of Syria. The US is yet to comment on the statement.
“President [Donald] Trump, I think, is now considering leaving Syria once again,” Cavusoglu said at the Doha Forum.
Ankara has expressed concerns over US support for the Kurdish militia and repeatedly accused Washington of failing to fulfil its promises regarding the YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij.
The day before, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was ready to launch an operation in the northern Syrian city of Manbij against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, if the United States does not withdraw the Kurdish militia from the area.
Earlier this year, Trump was already planning to withdraw US troops from Syria, saying that “it was time for US troops to come home from Syria… to bring our troops back home”.
However, shortly after talks with his military advisers, Trump changed his position on the issue. Commenting on the change of plans, former US UN envoy Nikki Haley stated that the president “listened to his general completely” on the Syrian issue, “because they don’t want ISIS [Daesh*] to come back.”
While both Turkey and the US have been allies in the US-led coalition’s fight against Daesh, the sides have had several disagreements over Washington’s support to Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara opposes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the backbone of the SDF — as it considers the group to be an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which outlawed in Turkey as a terrorist organisation.
Commenting on the YPG’s fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Cavusoglu suggested that this assault might be an attempt to take control of territories in the two countries.
“When it comes to YPG/PKK, our Western friends are supporting them. Why? They have one pretext that YPG is fighting Daesh. Maybe, in certain areas, yes, but the question is why they have been fighting Daesh? Just because they hate the ideology or to gain more territories in both countries [Iraq, Syria]? I think the answer is the second one,” Cavusoglu asked, adding that the rest of the world chose not to face the truth.
Syria’s New Constitution
Speaking further about the Syrian issue, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticised other countries’ attempts to draft Syria’s new constitution on behalf of the country’s citizens, including during the Astana-format talks. He insisted that Syrians themselves should be the ones to do it.
“Our coalition allies, they have their own small group meeting [in Astana]. From time to time they try to draft a constitution for Syria and in the past, in Astana, some countries also tried that, but we are against drafting a constitution on behalf of the people of Syria by the others. So let them draft their own constitution,” the foreign minister said at the Doha Forum.
The drafting of the new Syrian constitution, which is set to become part of the political settlement of the armed conflict in the country, is expected to be delegated to the Syrian constitutional committee that is yet to be established.
The minister also touched upon the Khashoggi case, saying that voice recordings allegedly pertaining to the Khashoggi case prove the murder was planned in advance. According to Cavusoglu, intelligence services of all interested countries were able to listen to them.
“Intelligence of the countries who were interested [in it] had the opportunity to listen to that voice records. I also did that, together with my president, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. So you can see, you can hear very clearly that they planned in advance to kill him,” Cavusoglu said.
The top diplomat reiterated Turkey’s stance on the matter, saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was determined from the beginning to fully investigate Khashoggi’s case.
“President Erdogan has been so determined from the beginning to go to the end of this case and to reach an outcome of the investigation,” Cavusoglu said, when asked to comment on claims that Erdogan was “milking” the situation and might pursue political motives, and also the remark that Ankara had not made murder audio recordings public.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. Later, Saudi authorities announced that a preliminary investigation had found Khashoggi to be dead.
The aforementioned probe into the killing of Khashoggi was launched amid mounting international pressure. Following over two weeks of denial, Riyadh admitted that he had been killed in a brawl inside the consulate.
On October 26, the Saudi prosecutor general acknowledged that the journalist’s murder was premeditated. Commenting on the killing, Riyadh has repeatedly stressed that the assassination had nothing to do with the Saudi Royal family, describing it as a rogue operation.
Extradition of Islamic Cleric Fethullah Gulen
Speaking about Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish foreign minister said that the United States was working on the extradition of the Islamic cleric to Turkey.
“The perpetrator of the attempted coup, the leader of this terrorist organization [FETO], is still in the United States… Last time when we [the Turkish and US sides] met in Buenos Aires, President Trump told Erdogan that they [the United States] have been working on that [the extradition] but we need to see concrete steps,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said at the Doha Forum, held in the Argentine capital between November 30 and December 1.
Turkey accuses cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in the United States since 1999, of orchestrating a failed military coup on July 15, 2016, which left 251 people dead and 2,200 injured. Gulen, in turn, has repeatedly denied taking part in the coup.
Since the coup failed, approximately 80,000 people have been arrested in Turkey over their alleged links to the cleric.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State) is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.