Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday hit back at charges that his country is allowing extremists to flow across its long border with Syria, calling for greater intelligence cooperation.
“In no way Turkey tolerates or will be tolerating any extremist groups crossing Turkish borders,” the minister told reporters, speaking in English after meetings in Washington with top US officials.
The Washington Post alleged at the weekend that Ankara had “turned a blind eye” as militant volunteers streamed through Turkey on their way to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Extremists have been swelling the ranks of Al-Qaeda linked groups which have left the moderate Syrian opposition fighting on two fronts, against both Assad’s forces and more hardline factions.
Ankara had asked western countries to share intelligence on suspected militants so Turkish authorities could stop them entering the country, Davutoglu said.
“We told them ‘Since you know these people prevent them not to leave, not to come to Turkey or give us the list and we will prevent them to come into Turkey,'” he insisted.
It was impossible for Turkey to identify potential extremists among the 34 million tourists who visit the country every year, providing a vital income for the country.
And he stressed that the Turkish-Syrian border was 911 kilometers (570 miles) long,and, while Turkey was doing what it can, “if there is no order on one side, we cannot be sure of that border’s security.”
Turkish authorities found themselves in a balancing act, Davutoglu said.
“If you are too tough you will be criticized based on humanitarian grounds, if you are too liberal… than people may go and come freely and this is a threat.”
While he stressed there was “intelligence cooperation” with western allies, if it were to start “before these people come in then it will be more result-orientated and this is what we want.”