President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the preparations for a safe zone allocated for refugees to be operated by Turkey and the United States in Northeastern Syria are running according to schedule, while speaking to journalists in New York following the United Nations General Assembly.
“While the schedule is proceeding, we have taken our precautions on the border. We have flown our aircrafts in the area. These flights are not for nothing and these are no simple navigations,” Erdoğan said.
The area in question is controlled by the YPG, a Kurdish militia group that Ankara considers to be the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, (PKK). Though the US and Turkey both consider the PKK a terrorist organization, the US has supported the YPG in its efforts to defeat ISIS in the region, and American troops are still on the ground in the area.
Erdoğan is seeking a 480-mile safe zone along the border that Turkey shares with Syria, and he said that between 1-2 million Syrian refugees could be resettled in the area.
“The refugee crisis has reached global proportions, but the world’s interest lies in other areas,” Erdoğan said, adding that while at the General Assembly he showed the iconic photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee child that drowned in the Mediterranean while his family was trying to reach Europe. Kurdi’s body was found on Turkey’s Aegean coast in 2015.
“In order to find a fundamental solution to the refugee crisis, the blood that is flowing in Syria must be stopped,” Erdoğan said.
Regarding the contentious issue concerning Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system, which resulted in Washington cancelling its sale of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara, Erdoğan said the two countries had not yet reached a solution.
“On the topic of the F-35s we cannot in the strictest sense say that the issue has been solved. But I made them an offer. I said ‘alongside the S-400, we can buy Patriots from you’. I said this to Mr. Trump directly,” Erdogan said.
Idlib is calm at the moment
When asked about the Northwestern Syrian of Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held territory in Syria which has been the site of recent bombardment from the Syrian regime and its Russian allies, Erdoğan said that things in the area were currently calm.
“We continue to meet with our interlocutors. At the moment there is no problem. In Idlib it appears to be calm, however one must not let their guard down,” Erdoğan said of the region, which is currently home to 4 million people, most of whom are civilians.