NATO stands with Turkey in face of 'terrorism'
NATO on Tuesday gave its strong backing to Turkey's fight against "terrorism" at an emergency meeting called to discuss Ankara's strikes against Islamic State fighters and Kurdish rebels.
The talks in Brussels came as President Tayyip Erdogan insisted that Turkey would press on with the dual offensive against two mutually hostile groups despite questions about his country's motives. Opening the meeting of ambassadors from all 28 NATO states, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the US-led military alliance was "following developments very closely and we stand in strong solidarity with our ally Turkey".
"Terrorism in all its forms can never be tolerated or justified. It is right and timely that we hold this meeting today to address the instability on Turkey's doorstep and on NATO's border," he said. Turkey requested the meeting after a bloody suicide bombing it blamed on the Islamic State group in the southeastern town of Suruc last week. The attack, which killed 32 people, saw Turkey combine campaigns against Kurdish militants and IS into a broad "war on terror" even though the two groups are themselves bitterly opposed.
The United States and Turkey said Monday they had agreed to work together to create an IS-free zone northern Syria in a potentially game-changing accord. But the attacks on the Kurds have surprised its NATO allies and raised questions over whether Turkey, fearful of seeing a Kurd state emerge on its southern border, is more interested in limiting Kurdish capabilities than in tackling IS in Iraq and Syria. NATO allies have until now seen Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq as one of the most effective military options against IS as it continues its advance.
Erdogan insisted Tuesday that Ankara would press its attacks to the full.
"Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination," Erdogan told reporters before leaving on a visit to China. He also said it would be impossible to continue peace efforts with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) amid continuing attacks inside Turkey.
Ankara, which along with its Western allies considers the PKK a terrorist organisation, launched peace negotiations with the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in late 2012 but the two sides have yet to reach an accord. After the Suruc attack, Turkey bombed IS targets in Syria and also PKK positions in northern Iraq. Kurdish groups say Turkish forces have targeted them in Syria as well but Ankara has denied the claims.
Erdogan also said the creation of a safe zone in the north of war-torn Syria, free from IS, would help the return of many refugees.
"The clearance of those regions and the creation of a safe zone there will lay the ground for 1.7 million citizens here to return home," he said.
Turkey, the alliance's only Muslim member and one of its most powerful, called for the NATO meeting under Article 4 which allows for consultations when a country feels under threat. The meeting comes a day after the United States and a previously reluctant Turkey agreed to work together to drive IS out of northern Syria.
A senior US official told AFP that Ankara and Washington aimed to establish an IS-free zone "and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey's border with Syria". Details of the zone "remain to be worked out", the official said during a visit by US President Barack Obama to Ethiopia, adding that joint efforts would not include Turkey's demand for the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Turkey would support US "partners on the ground" already fighting IS jihadists, the official added. Turkey has also given the United States the green light to use its Incirlik air base to attack IS after months of tough negotiations.