World Bulletin / News Desk
The next most significant step in the fight against ISIL in Iraq is to retake Raqqah, Turkey's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.
"We have said that we are ready to carry out such an operation together with the U.S.-led international coalition forces against ISIL," Huseyin Muftuoglu told a news conference in Ankara.
"We have also stressed that this operation should be conducted with the support of right Syrian groups, and that it is unacceptable to allow cooperation with PYD/YPG terrorist organizations even for tactical reasons."
Muftuoglu said they were waiting to hear about the U.S. administration's plans over Raqqah offensive.
Asked about Turkey's current stance on Manbij in Syria, the spokesman reiterated that PYD/YPG elements had to leave the northern Syrian city.
Muftuoglu also commented on the third round of intra-Syria talks, which were held in the Kazakhstan's capital, Astana on March 15, saying Turkey was one of the countries which provided the most significant contribution.
He said the representatives of the opposition - backed by Turkey - did not participate in the Astana talks on the grounds that their expectations were not met by the Syrian regime regarding the implementation of a cease-fire and reducing violations.
The next high-level meeting in Astana will be held on May 3 and 4, Muftuoglu said. "Our country, as a guarantor, will continue to do its part in order to minimize cease-fire violations. We think it is significant that Russia and Iran also use their power for the same purpose."
He also said that the UN Special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura had left for Geneva to attend Syria peace talks, which will begin Thursday night, after meeting with the Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Umit Yalcin.
Mistura had met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday in Moscow.
- PKK presence in Sinjar
On the presence of the PKK terror group in Sinjar, which lies close to the Iraq-Syria border, Muftuoglu said: "We know that the PKK is putting pressure on Ezidis there.”
Ezidis, a minority group in Iraq, which has suffered numerous attacks because of their religion, have faced persecution by ISIL.
"We are expecting the Iraqi government to take some measures without delay," he added.
In mid-2014, the PKK established a foothold in Sinjar on the pretext that it was fighting ISIL.
- Relations with Russia
The spokesman said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Moscow earlier in March showed a shared intention to increase trade between the two countries but there were still some restrictions to overcome.
He said that Ankara wanted to remove those restrictions.
In January 2016, after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet violating its airspace, Russia banned the imports of Turkish fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, oranges, apples, apricots, cabbage, broccoli, mandarins, pears, peaches, cucumbers, plums, strawberries, onions, cloves, and poultry.
Following reconciliation between the two countries, Russia started to gradually lift the sanctions. But import bans on foods such as tomato and grapes, which have a market potential of $425 million in Russia, remain in force.
Russia recently withdrew the ban of some Turkish agricultural exports such as onions, broccoli, and cauliflowers.
Muftuoglu also said that Turkey was expecting an increase in the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey.
- Asylum for FETO members
The spokesman also commented on the European countries accepting asylum bids of suspected members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
“For us, FETO is a terrorist organization, and thereby its members should be considered terrorists.
“It is obvious that countries which embrace terrorists and give them asylum are making a mistake,” he said, adding those countries should recognize their mistake as soon as possible and correct it.
Last month, an Interior Ministry spokesman said more than 130 Turkish citizens -- including former soldiers, diplomats, and their family members -- had sought asylum in Germany since the failed putsch.
On Wednesday, Norway's government-owned news broadcaster NRK reported that four military officers and a military attaché working at NATO bases had requested asylum after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey which Ankara has said was orchestrated by FETO.
Their lawyer Kjell M. Brygfjeld confirmed that the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration accepted his clients’ requests and granted them residence and work permits.
FETO, led by United States-based Fetullah Gulen, has been accused of orchestrating the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, that left 249 people martyred, and around 2,200 others wounded.
Turkey's government accuses the FETO terror network of staging the coup attempt as well as being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.