Erdogan: We could open a door with Putin in our fight against terrorism in Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview in CNN International ahead of the presidential election runoff on 28 May that relations with Damascus may be restored through close cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Erdogan told CNN’s Becky Anderson that he is keen to turn the page in Syria, large parts of which have been occupied by Turkish forces and armed jihadist groups that operate under the command of the Turkish military.
"(Through) my friendship with President Putin, we thought we could open a door, specifically in our fight against terrorism in the northern part of Syria, which requires close cooperation and solidarity," he said, referring to Kurdish-led militia in northeast Syria.
"If we can do that, I said I see no obstacle that would remain in the way of our reconciliation," he added, while promising to maintain Turkey’s presence in northern Syria despite Assad preconditioning talks on Ankara's withdrawal from the territory.
"We have more than 900 kilometers of border and there is a constant terror threat from those borders on our country," he said. "The only reason we have a military presence on the border is to fight against terrorism. That's the sole reason."
In response to electoral campaigns around pushing back millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey to their home country, Erdogan dismissed opposition calls for a comprehensive deportation of refugees, stating that he will instead "encourage" around a million refugees to return to Syria. He said Turkey has been building infrastructure and homes in Turkish-controlled parts of Syria to facilitate their repatriation.
"Turkish NGOs are building residential units in northern Syria so that refugees here can go back to their homeland. This process has already started," he said. "We are encouraging one million refugees to go back to their homeland."
Erdogan also stressed that Turkey has a "special" and growing relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite mounting pressure on Ankara to help bolster Western sanctions against Moscow.
"We are not at a point where we would impose sanctions on Russia like the West have done. We are not bound by the West's sanctions," he said. "We are a strong state and we have a positive relationship with Russia."
"Russia and Turkey need each other in every field possible," he added.