‘Hand in glove with terror groups, hard for US to pull out from Syria’

As it tries to end its involvement with the terrorist PKK/PYD in Syria, the U.S. is having problems withdrawing its forces, said Turkey’s foreign minister on Wednesday.

“We see that the U.S. has some difficulties while withdrawing [from Syria],” Mevlut Cavusoglu told parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“After being so intertwined and engaged with a terrorist organization, it is not that easy to leave that terrorist organization,” he added, referring to the terrorist PKK/PYD.

Ankara has long criticized the U.S. working with the terrorist PKK/PYD to fight Daesh in Syria, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.

In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. The PKK/PYD is its Syrian branch.

Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey has repeatedly rejected U.S. claims that Washington will not withdraw its troops from northeastern Syria without a guarantee from Ankara that it will not attack “Kurds.” Turkey’s leadership has stressed that equating “Kurds” with the terrorist PKK/PYD is illicit.

Cavusoglu pointed to Turkey prioritizing and supporting Syria’s territorial integrity and stability.

Turkey has taken all measures to counter terror threats from the PKK/PYD coming from Syrian territory, he said.

“As we took steps in Afrin, as we took steps with Operation Euphrates Shield west of the Euphrates River to the al-Bab region, so we would never shrink from taking the same steps east of the Euphrates,” he stressed.

Turkey has said it will soon launch an operation against PKK/YPD terrorists east of the Euphrates in Syria, following two successful similar operations since 2016.

Cavusoglu added that under the Astana process, Turkey has been coordinating with Russia and Iran on Syria.

On the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Cavusoglu said there have been “no problems faced so far with implementation of the Idlib deal, and Turkey has no wish to face problems going forward.”

Yemen and Mediterranean hydrocarbon drilling 

Turning to the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Cavusoglu said finding a solution to the Yemen issue will be one of Turkey’s priorities in 2019.

Under Turkey’s term presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said Cavusoglu, “we will hold an OIC Yemen contact group meeting at the end of January or beginning of February.”

Cavusoglu said that they would set the date of the meeting with Yemen’s foreign minister.

He added: “We will continue to make contributions to ending the war in Yemen. It’s not enough to support UN moves [in Yemen]. We will make contribution as Turkey.”

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and several of its Arab allies have been waging a massive military campaign against the Houthi rebel group, which in 2014 overran much of Yemen.

The campaign has devastated much of the country’s infrastructure, leading the UN to describe the situation in Yemen as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times.”

Since the conflict began more than three years ago, the Houthis have fired more than 200 rockets into Saudi territory, which have left scores dead and hundreds injured, according to Saudi officials.

On the Cyprus issue, Cavusoglu said European Parliament elections set for this May have forestalled the start of any Cyprus negotiations.

But energy exploration around the island will continue, he pledged, saying that Turkey would begin “drilling around Cyprus with a new platform.”

Turkey’s first drilling vessel, the Fatih, did its first deep drilling off Antalya on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast last October, he added.

“Our second vessel is about to reach the area. We will send it near Cyprus and start drilling,” said Cavusoglu.

Turkey wants to protect Turkish Cypriots’ rights to carry out hydrocarbon drilling, he added.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources in the area.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turks and Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.

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