Erdogan, Trump discuss ways to end crisis in Idlib

A Turkish military mobile rocket launcher firing from a position in the countryside of the Syrian province of Idlib towards Syrian government forces' positions in neighbouring Aleppo province last Friday. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and 80
A Turkish military mobile rocket launcher firing from a position in the countryside of the Syrian province of Idlib towards Syrian government forces' positions in neighbouring Aleppo province last Friday. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and 800,000 Syrians displaced since last December.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ANKARA • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday discussed with US counterpart Donald Trump ways to end the crisis in Idlib, Syria's last major rebel bastion, and condemned Damascus' attacks there, the Turkish presidency said.

"Stressing that the regime's most recent attacks are unacceptable, the President and Trump exchanged views on ways to end the crisis in Idlib without further delay," the presidency said in a statement, after the two leaders spoke on the phone.

The situation in Syria has become more tense as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intensifies his assault on Idlib, backed by Moscow air power.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed while 800,000 Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since last December, according to the United Nations.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of the 2018 Ankara-Moscow agreement made in southern city of Sochi. Turkish officials say up to four of the posts are surrounded by regime forces.

Mr Erdogan has said that Turkey would do everything necessary to push Syrian forces back behind the 12 observation posts.

"We'll do the job ourselves," he said in a televised speech in Istanbul. He added that Turkey was creating a "safe zone" in Idlib and building homes for people fleeing.

Ankara fears that those fleeing the bombs will come to Turkey, already home to more than 3.6 million Syrians.

"We are not in a position to accept a million more people," Mr Erdogan said last week.

After Russia accused Turkey of failing to "neutralise terrorists" in Idlib, Mr Erdogan dismissed this claim and said Turkish forces would fight against any terrorist.

ATTACKS UNACCEPTABLE

Stressing that the regime's most recent attacks are unacceptable, (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) and (US President Donald) Trump exchanged views on ways to end the crisis in Idlib without further delay.

THE TURKISH PRESIDENCY, in a statement after two leaders spoke on the phone.

In his speech on Saturday evening, Mr Erdogan again criticised Moscow over its support for the Syrian regime.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier on Saturday insisted that Turkey-Russia relations "shouldn't" be affected by differences of opinion over Syria.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been strained over multiple issues - including Syria - but it appears the Americans are trying to capitalise on the tensions over Idlib between Ankara and Moscow.

 
 

US special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey visited Ankara last week, and voiced Washington's support for Turkey's "legitimate" interests in Syria and in Idlib.

The Turkish presidency also said that Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump discussed the situation in war-torn Libya and both leaders "underlined the importance of restoring peace and stability".

The leaders agreed to restart negotiations to increase bilateral trade to US$100 billion (S$139 billion) a year, it added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2020, with the headline 'Erdogan, Trump discuss ways to end crisis in Idlib'. Print Edition | Subscribe