Türkiye is set to clear two areas of northern Syria, near the Turkish border, of terrorist elements in a bid to eliminate the terror threat from the region, the nation’s president said on Wednesday.
"We are entering a new phase of our decision to establish safe zone 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) deep south (of the Turkish-Syrian border). We are clearing Tel Rifat and Manbij of terrorists," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a group meeting of his Justice and Development (AK) Party in the capital Ankara.
Erdogan has said as the US and Russia failed to live up to their commitments to provide such a safe zone in the border region, Türkiye is ready to mount an operation to protect the nation and locals in northern Syria from the YPG/PKK terrorist threat.
In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and EU – has been responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. The YPG/PYD is the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
Turning to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, Erdogan reiterated Türkiye’s objection to the move, saying both countries have supported and provide safe haven to terrorists, including members of the YPG/PKK and others.
Sweden and Finland have not yet provided Türkiye with any concrete responses meeting its expectations, and NATO is an organization of security, not a body supporting terrorism, said Erdogan.
How can Türkiye approve of the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids given that the terror affiliates “freely roam, hold rallies there?” he asked, stressing that Ankara expects European countries to act sincerely and address its concerns.
Dismissing the PKK/YPG strategy of adopting different names such as SDF or PYD, the president said some circles are seeking to whitewash the terrorist PKK by tricking people with numerous labels, but they are fooling themselves, not Türkiye.
Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO on May 18, a decision spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24.
But Türkiye, a longstanding member of the alliance, has voiced objections to their membership bids, criticizing the countries for tolerating and even supporting terrorist groups such as the YPG/PKK and FETO, the group responsible for a failed 2016 coup in Türkiye.
Their accession requires unanimous approval from all 30 NATO member states.
Erdogan went on to say that the western world that has been standing idly by Türkiye's security concerns and humanitarian tragedy happening across the southern borders of Türkiye now found itself in the middle of a similar crisis with a hot conflict that began in the north of Black Sea.
"Those who used their opportunities to increase their own welfare instead of contributing to security alliances, for which Türkiye bore all the burden for years, came to NATO's door after the Ukraine crisis," he said.
Sweden and Finland's membership application to NATO is the product of such a process, he added.
Sweden and Finland sent a delegation for talks with the Turkish delegation, Erdogan said: "It is quite interesting. On the day of the meeting, they are interviewing Salih Muslim (one of the leaders of YPG terror group) on Swedish state TV in the evening."
Adding that from Libya to Karabakh, the shouts of victory are rising wherever Türkiye help out its brothers, Erdogan said that Türkiye disrupts the plans on the region that will have negative consequences for the country.
Bilateral talks halted until Athens bounces back from its mistakes
President Erdogan urged Greek leadership "to be honest" in its relations with Türkiye, saying that Türkiye has cancelled the High-Level Strategic Council agreement with Greece.
Turkish side won't hold bilateral talks with Greece until Athens bounces back from its mistakes, Erdogan said.
He rhetorically asked if the Greek administration paved the way for the US to gain access to nine military bases in Greece.
On May 24, Erdogan criticized Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over his comments made on Türkiye during a recent official visit to the US, saying that Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis is no longer fit to deal with.
The US and Greece first signed the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) in 1990, which has been renewed in successive periods, with the last extension in 2019.
The recent ratification of the agreement by the Greek parliament will allow the US military to gain access to more bases in Greece.