Turkey is dealing significant blows to Daesh in Syria: Erdoğan

Turkey is continuing to advance on Daesh territory in Syria, and will discuss regional issues with U.S. President Trump, says Turkish President Erdoğan after returning from his east Africa tour

Turkey is making steady progress in Syria’s al-Bab with coalition and Russian forces, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan upon returning from an east Africa tour where he signed agreements on diplomacy, economy, and aid.
“The Euphrates Shield Operation has moved through Jarabulus, al-Rai, Dabiq and is now focusing on al-Bab, which is currently completely surrounded. Daesh is losing serious blood [in al-Bab],” said Erdoğan.

The Euphrates Shield Operation captured its targets rapidly, starting from Jarabulus. The capture of Dabiq, a point of resistance for Daesh’s morale, played an important role in paving the way to al-Bab.

Daesh lost approximately 25 per cent of the territory it held between January 2015 and December 2016, and has experienced a more than 16 per cent loss of territory in 2016 alone.

“The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) operate on the basic principle that they do not harm civilians. Our operations are slowed down because we are taking care to not effect civilians,”said the President.

The Turkish military has dismissed claims that military operations in Syria have impacted civilians, stating that the utmost care is taken to protect civilians.

Coalition forces have hit Daesh targets in Syria, supporting the Turkish-led Euphrates Shield Operation.

“We are conducting our work with the coalition forces. Russia is also providing support from time to time,” said Erdoğan.

Russia and Turkey have conducted two joint military operations in Syria against Daesh. The two nations signed an agreement allowing coordinated air operations.

“We are fighting against the regime in Syria’s al-Bab. We were against the regime in Jarabulus, al-Rai and Dabiq,” said the President.

Turkey has long since believed that there is no place for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s future, backing opposition forces in the conflict.

“The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) were in power in an extension of Afrin, but my hope is that the process initiated in Astana together with Russia and Iran will continue in Geneva and bring the [Syrian] regime to a positive point whereby al-Bab will be captured,” said Erdoğan.

Erdoğan will discuss FETÖ with Trump

The President also expressed that he would discuss the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) with the U.S. President Donald Trump.

“In face to face meetings [with the U.S.], FETÖ will of course be discussed. This is perhaps one of the most important issues we will discuss. We wish for this matter [of extradition] to be resolved swiftly. We will ask about the fate of the files we provided – 85 boxes worth – and we will continue to send files as investigations continue.

The U.S. has been reviewing documents that Turkey sent based on a 1979 extradition treaty between the two nations.

Turkey has repeatedly called for the extradition of U.S.-based Fetullah Gülen, who leads FETÖ terrorists, and expressed frustrations regarding slow progress.

“These people [who instigated a coup] are the enemy of the people. We are taking all the necessary precautions

FETÖ orchestrated Turkey’s July 15 coup plot and has been behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.

Since the failed coup, operations have been ongoing in the military, police and judiciary, as well as in state institutions across the country, to arrest suspects with alleged links to FETÖ.

The terrorist group is also known for its network comprised of hundreds of schools around the world.

Ankara and Washington set to improve relations under Trump administration

“We spoke with Trump on the phone on the first night [he was elected]. Now that we’ve spoken on the phone, of course we also want to make an official visit,” said Erdoğan, reiterating Turkey’s recent call to reset relations between Ankara and Washington.

“Our Foreign Ministry is working on the matter. Mr. Mevlüt [Çavuşoğlu], who participated in the swearing-in ceremony, also had some meetings while he was there.”

The President expressed his hopes of improving ties under the Trump administration, providing a glimpse of the matters on his agenda.

“I hope to be able to talk to Trump without further delay. One of the most important issues we must discuss is the reevaluation of Turkey-U.S. relations in a strategic sense. No, our strategic relations are not progressing very well at the moment. We must improve this,” he said.

“Another important issue is the Middle East. We are not displaying relations that are befitting of two NATO countries in the Middle East. Of course there are some remarks that Trump made about NATO, but we will understand exactly what he meant during bilateral talks.”

The President also commented on the recent Syria peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

“The recent Astana summit started a process. In the meeting attended by Turkey, Russia and Iran, the U.S. envoy to Kazakhstan also participated. The negotiations are set to continue in Geneva. We cannot know what the results of the talks will be, but I believe this is a positive step. I plan to meet with Mr Putin in this regard,” he said.

Presidential system will come into effect in 2019 if majority approves the referendum

Turkish lawmakers approved a long-debated constitutional change, which will go to a referendum in April. The President and the ruling AK Party have argued that Turkey needs a strong presidency to avoid weak governance and allow the nation to tackle Daesh, FETÖ and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

The government will be in power until the 2019 elections, which is when the presidential system will come into effect.

“An election will take place in 2019. There are no plans in parliament to have an early election. What matters is the choice of the people,” said Erdoğan.

“I believe there is a huge benefit in letting the people decide. The people are determined to make a change. Referendum campaigns should begin from February 7 onwards, I believe.”

The proposed changes will shift Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system if it received a majority in the upcoming referendum.