Turkey Pulse

Erdogan slams US-Kurdish patrols near Syria border

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Article Summary
In a speech to parliament, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chastised the United States for supporting Kurdish militias in Syria and reimposing “imperialist” sanctions on Iran.

ANKARA, Turkey — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the United States Tuesday for ordering US soldiers to conduct patrols with a Syrian Kurdish militia, whom Ankara regards as terrorists, and for reimposing what he called “imperialist” sanctions on Iran.

Speaking to legislators of the ruling Justice and Development Party in the parliament building, Erdogan said US military patrols with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Syrian-Turkish border “can cause serious negative developments.”

Pentagon spokesman Rob Manning has said the “assurance patrols” began last week after Turkish artillery bombarded positions of the People's Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria. The patrols would “allow us, Turkey and our SDF partners to maintain the safety and security of the region,” Col. Manning said. The United States has some 2,000 troops in Syria.

While the United States sees the SDF as an effective ally in fighting the Islamic State in Syria, Turkey does not regard the SDF as legitimate because most of its members belong to the YPG, a Kurdish militia that is closely aligned to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Kurd insurgent group. While the United States and EU regard the PKK as a terrorist organization, they do not classify the YPG as terrorist — to the chagrin of Ankara.

Last week the SDF issued a video of the border patrols with the US forces. Spokesman Kino Gabriel told Reuters their purpose was to ward off attacks by Turkish forces.

Erdogan said he would discuss the US-SDF patrols with President Donald Trump when they meet at the WWI armistice commemorations in Paris this weekend. “I believe Mr Trump will stop this,” he added.

Turning to US sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipping and banking industries, Erdogan said they violated international law. But he did not cite the relevant law.

Speaking a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington would exempt Turkey and seven other nations from the sanctions, Erdogan said: "These sanctions aim to destroy the balance in the world. We don't want to live in an imperialist world."

“We buy 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Iran every year,” he added. Turkey also buys oil from Iran, with which it shares a 250-kilometer (156-mile) border.

Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had been telling the Americans that “cornering Iran is not wise.”

“Isolating Iran is dangerous, and punishing the Iranian people is not fair," Cavusoglu told reporters on a trip to Japan. "I think instead of sanctions, meaningful dialogue and engagement is much more useful."

While Cavusoglu did not mention it, dialogue and engagement is the policy that Trump is pursuing with North Korea, a country that has gone far further down the nuclear road than Iran.

The Turkish lira climbed to 5.30 to the dollar on Tuesday morning, marking its highest value in three months. In August the currency had sunk as low as 7.24 to the dollar.

The news came a day after authorities declared that inflation had risen to 25%, a 15-year high.

An Istanbul investment expert, Shirin Sari, told NTV the currency’s appreciation was due to a combination of factors: better relations with the United States, as shown by Turkey’s releasing imprisoned American priest Andrew Brunson in October and Washington’s exempting Turkey from its sanctions on Iran; the tax cuts on consumer goods; and the central bank raising interest rates by 6.25% in September.

Sari said if the government made structural reforms and reduced inflation, the lira could rise as high as 4.80 to the dollar. If the government fails to take such steps, she believes the lira could fall to 5.80 to the dollar.

Turkey still has more to reveal on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu told the National Press Club in Tokyo.

In what seemed to be a bid to push Saudi Arabia to be more forthcoming, the minister said that while the government has revealed some of the evidence it had gathered, “there is still some evidence that we have not shared with the public. We have given it to the countries that wanted to see it."

He appeared to be referring to the United States and Iran. CIA Director Gina Haspel and Saudi Chief Prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb visited Istanbul recently to discuss the Khashoggi case.

“When the investigation is finished, we will share it with the public,” Cavusoglu added.

Khashoggi disappeared in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. After maintaining for 18 days that he had walked out of the consulate unharmed, Saudi Arabia admitted he had died on the premises but said his death was accidental — an argument that turned into a brawl. Finally, at the end of last month, Riyadh acknowledged he had been murdered.

Turkey has repeatedly expressed frustration with the Saudi investigating authorities, who have detained 18 men in connection with Khashoggi's killing but have not said what their interrogators have found. In an article published in the Washington Post on Friday, Erdogan said Riyadh has still not revealed who ordered Khashoggi’s death and where his remains had been hidden.

In Turkish domestic affairs, an investigator who did reveal all appears to have paid a heavy price for his diligence.

Opposition newspapers reported Tuesday that Fikret Choker, the deputy chief of the national auditing authority, the Court of Accounts, had been dismissed days after publishing a report that showed widespread financial irregularities in municipalities and state institutions.

The Court of Accounts denied that Choker had been dismissed, saying he is still a member of the court but is no longer in charge of auditing.

Choker’s report revealed a discrepancy of 3.3 billion liras ($611 million) in the accounts of Greater Ankara Municipality during the mayorship of Melih Gokcek, who stepped down at Erdogan’s request last year.

It also revealed that one municipality had bought 40,000 liters of petrol for a car that had traveled only one kilometer. In another case, the municipality of Arnavutkoy, on the outskirts of Istanbul, had paid 78 liras ($14.50) for one meter of hosepipe.

The apparent dismissal of Choker was well reported in Birgun, Sozcu and Cumhuriyet newspapers. But it was not mentioned at all in Hurriyet, the second-biggest circulation newspaper in Turkey and one that used to be respected for its centrist position but which, after a change of ownership, has come under government influence. 

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Jasper Mortimer is a South African-trained journalist who works for France24 TV and GRN. While traveling the world, he was waylaid in the Middle East, married a Turkish woman and settled in Ankara in 2007. He covers the Kurdish issue, the Syrian war and Cyprus.

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