Syria cannot be forced to choose between President Bashar al-Assad and “terrorist groups” like the Islamic State (IS) organisation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday.
Erdogan — who has always rejected cooperation with Assad as a solution in the fight against IS — was addressing the Turkish parliament as Russia launched air strikes in Syria in support of the regime.
“The people of Syria cannot be left to choose between the regime that massacres them and terrorist organisations,” Erdogan told the parliament.
A vocal critic of the Assad and his regime, Turkey has repeatedly called for his ouster and is backing rebels fighting to overthrow the president.
Russia, by contrast, backs Assad and insists he must be involved in any solution.
In his speech, Erdogan refrained from explicitly referring to Russia’s latest actions.
But he said: “I hope the recent developments will help solve this problem which has been lingering for almost five years.”
“We will not give our consent to terrorist organisations who throw their weight in our country or in our region no matter what their name is,” said Erdogan.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said this week that Turkey would work with all countries, including Russia, to find a political solution in Syria that would ultimately see Assad leave power.
Turkey is home to more than two million Syrian refugees and claims it has thus far spent 7.5 billion dollars dealing with them, often accusing the European Union for failing to share the burden.
“By hosting over two million Syrian and Iraqi brothers for four years, Turkey has saved the honour of humanity,” Erdogan said.
“We do not have a right to leave our brothers to die in the Mediterranean or expose them to cruelty along borders or at train stations as some European countries do,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan said Turkey’s open-door policy for people fleeing conflicts would remain intact and lashed out at European response to the migrant tragedy, saying setting up barbed wire or boosting security measures cannot be solutions.
The Turkish president, who is due to hold talks with EU leaders next week, also repeated Ankara’s commitment to becoming a European Union member state, which he said was based on a “win-win” strategy.
“I believe that a new page will be opened,” in Turkish-EU relations “built on objective criteria,” he added.