Turkey offers Russia joint operations against ISIS in Syria

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey on Thursday (Aug 11) called on Russia to carry out joint operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, after crucial talks between President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed at ending a diplomatic crisis.

The comments by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came as a Turkish delegation was in Russia for talks aimed at coordinating actions on Syria and other bilateral issues.

"We will discuss all the details. We have always called on Russia to carry out anti-Daesh (ISIS) operations together," Cavusoglu said in a live interview with the private NTV television, adding that the proposal was still "on the table".

Cavusoglu urged Russia to fight against the "common enemy" of ISIS in Syria.

"Let us come together to concentrate our efforts on Daesh," he said using an Arabic name for the ISIS group.

"Let's fight against the terrorist group together, so that we can clear it out as soon as possible," the minister said, warning that if unchecked the group continue to expand and spread into other countries.

Erdogan visited Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg on Tuesday - his first trip abroad since the July 15 coup attempt.

It was also his first direct meeting with Putin since the shooting-down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish air forces on the Syrian border in November that caused unprecedented damage to relations.

Nato member Turkey was long criticised by its Western partners for not playing a full role in the fight against ISIS but upped its involvement last year by offering US forces use of its Incirlik air base for raids against the group.

Turkey has also carried out air and artillery strikes of its own against ISIS, although it is believed to have halted the air strikes in the wake of the Russian plane incident. Artillery fire directed at ISIS has continued, however.

Cavusoglu said however Turkish jets would now actively join in anti-ISIS air raids in Syria in the future, without specifying when.

"If we fail to eradicate the terrorist organisation (ISIS) from head down it will attack all the cells just like an epidemic," he said.

The three-person Turkish delegation in Moscow, made up of representatives from the military, intelligence and foreign service, is tasked with implementing decisions made at Tuesday's summit including coordination on Syria, Cavusoglu said.

"I believe the mechanism will contribute to this process," he added.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that Putin and Erdogan concluded an agreement on preventing incidents in Turkish and Syrian airspace as well as "proposals on establishing control over the Turkish-Syrian border".

Cavusoglu said Turkish-Russian cooperation would help prevent incidents like the plane crisis in the future.

"Many countries are engaged in Syria actively. There could be mistakes," he said.

"In order to prevent that, we need to put into practice the solidarity and cooperation (mechanism) between us including sharing of real time intelligence." Cavusoglu also said real time communication was also needed between the two countries' presidents and military officials, suggesting that a hotline should be established.

Turkey and Russia still disagree on how to resolve the Syrian conflict, with Moscow carrying out a bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad, and Ankara seeing his exit as a key to any solution.

Cavusoglu on Thursday said the Assad regime - which Turkey says is to blame for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people - should not rule the country.

"But we cannot leave aside all our dialogue with Russia just because we think differently on Assad," he said, while ruling out any transition in Syria involving the Syrian leader.