We can’t depend on Islamic State, says Turkish foreign minister

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu holds a press conference at the Turkish Foreign Ministry. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN

Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, held a joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir, after the first Turkish-Saudi Coordination Council meeting held in Ankara.

Speaking about last night’s phone call between Turkish President Erdogan and US President Trump, Cavusoglu said, “yesterday night there was a very fruitful conversation between President Erdogan and President Trump. A joint commitment to develop bilateral relations was reaffirmed on both sides. It was an opportunity to talk about regional developments and the fight against terrorism. One of these is the fight against Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group.

Giving further information about the phone conversation between the two leaders, the foreign minister said, “Our president clearly outlined the success of Turkey’s effective fight against Daesh. The fight against Daesh is a joint target for both countries”.

The Turkish-Saudi Coordination Council was founded last year to further political and economic relations between the two countries. Stating that the two countries had the same viewpoint on combating terrorism, the Turkish foreign minister gave his opinion on the Turkish army’s operations against IS in the Syrian town of al-Bab and outlined Turkey’s objectives in the region.

“The al-Bab operation must be completed very soon. There are three important cities for IS. These are al-Bab and Raqqa, and Mosul in Iraq. Our next objective is the Raqqa operation. We may send in our special forces,” Cavusoglu announced adding at the end, “we cannot depend on the Islamic State.”

Clashes and tensions around al-Bab are hotting up as both the Turkish and Syrian armies are approaching the town from different directions. There is a nervous uncertainty around what will happen if and when the two armies meet in the region.

The foreign minister’s announcement that Raqqa was the next target will also raise questions about how that could fit in with the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ongoing operations to take the IS stronghold. The SDF, who announced this week that it was entering the third and final phase of its operation, consists largely of Kurdish YPG and YPJ units; both of which are deemed terrorists by Ankara.

The foreign minister’s choice of words on depending on the Islamic State will be heavily scrutinised especially after sustained accusations by the Syrian government, the Kurds in the north of the country and Russian officials that the Turkish government had given its support to the Islamic State group in Syria to overthrow President Assad.

For these words to have been uttered in a joint statement with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, another country accused of supporting IS both financially and politically, only adds to the gravity of the statement.