The US was willing to give Turkey intelligence regarding Syria’s Idlib, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has claimed, adding that the purchase of Russian anti-air systems won’t prevent Ankara from acquiring Patriot missiles.
The senior Turkish diplomat told state-owned Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that Washington had offered land, sea and air intelligence regarding the northwestern region, considered by Damascus and Moscow as the last terrorist stronghold in Syria.
According to Cavusoglu, Turkey and Russia will begin patrols around a critical highway in Idlib, as part of a recent ceasefire agreement brokered by the two sides. He warned that Turkey would retaliate if Syrian forces violated the agreement.
Cavusoglu also insisted that Ankara’s refusal to back out of a deal with Russia to obtain S-400 anti-air systems would not disqualify Turkey from acquiring US Patriot missiles, should they be offered in the future. Washington has repeatedly insisted that the S-400 batteries cannot be integrated into NATO systems. US President Donald Trump has urged Ankara to drop the Russian military hardware, promising in return to sell Ankara Patriot missile systems.
More recently, Turkey has urged the US to deploy Patriot missiles along its southern border with Syria – purportedly in order to deter Russian and Syrian warplanes. The Pentagon has so far resisted the request, reportedly over concerns that the move would have negative “global ramifications.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that Washington has “softened” its stance on the issue and is now willing to sell Patriot missiles to Ankara on the condition that the S-400 systems are never activated.
The foreign minister also spoke of the 2016 migration deal between Turkey and the EU, saying it will have to be revised as a result of the recent flare-up of violence in northern Syria. He called on Brussels to loosen visa requirements for Turkey and said that the bloc should work with Ankara to improve its current customs union.
In exchange for billions in aid from the EU, Turkey currently houses some 3.6 million Syrian refugees as part of the existing 2016 deal. Ankara has repeatedly threatened to pull out from the arrangement, accusing Brussels of placing an unfair burden on Turkey.
Erdogan announced last week that he would be “opening the doors” for refugees fleeing Idlib province. An estimated 35,000 migrants have now amassed at Turkey’s borders with the EU. The decision prompted a “frank” discussion between EU leaders and Erdogan on Monday.
The situation in Idlib reached boiling point earlier this month, with Syrian forces facing off against the Turkish military and its proxies. The Turkish president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire in Idlib after an emergency six-hour meeting in Moscow last week.