The Turkish president on Monday hinted at a possible new cross-border operation to clear the PKK terrorist organization from its border with Syria.
"We will continue our fight against terrorism. Our decision to establish a 30-kilometer-deep (18.6-mile) secure line along our southern border is permanent," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to Turkish diplomats attending the 13th Ambassadors Conference in the capital Ankara.
"I hope we will join the parts of this security zone together soon by clearing the last areas where the terrorist organization is nesting in Syria," he added.
Erdogan said Türkiye showed the whole world that there is "no room for terrorism" in Türkiye's future.
Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (2019).
In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and EU – has been responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is PKK's Syrian offshoot.
'Al-Aqsa Mosque red line for Türkiye'
On recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, which resulted in the death of many civilians, including children, Erdogan said: "There can be no excuse for killing children, babies in swaddling clothes. Türkiye stands by the Palestinian people and its Gazan brothers."
An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad was announced on Sunday, putting an end to three days of Israeli airstrikes and retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza.
At least 43 Palestinians have been killed and over 300 others injured in the Israeli offensive, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Erdogan added that Türkiye has told the Israeli administration at the highest level of its sensitivity on the Jerusalem issue, stressing that Ankara backs a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
Following new attempts by Israeli extremists to storm the flashpoint Jerusalem mosque, Erdogan said Al-Aqsa is a "red line" for Türkiye.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also called on Israel not to allow acts targeting the status and sanctity of Haram al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Türkiye calls for dialogue between Russia, Ukraine
Since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, Türkiye has argued that "there will be no winner," President Erdogan said, adding: "In meetings with both (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, we underlined that problems should be resolved through dialogue."
Erdogan said that despite hurdles, Türkiye continued efforts and ensured the implementation of last month’s grain corridor agreement.
On July 22, Türkiye, the UN, Russia, and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul to reopen three Ukrainian Black Sea ports for exporting Ukrainian grain stuck due to the war, which is now in its sixth month.
"Ships are sailing as you know right now. Thus, we contributed to world supply security at a time when the food crisis was looming. So far, we have managed to operate this agreement without encountering any serious problems," the president said.
Since the first departure on Aug. 1, so far 10 ships carrying over 300,000 tons of grain have left Ukrainian ports under the deal.
Sweden, Finland’s NATO bids
Erdogan reiterated that Türkiye will not take a positive attitude toward the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland unless they meet their promises on the fight against terrorism.
"We maintain a clear firm position on Finland and Sweden. The NATO membership of these two countries will not be approved until the promises made to our country are fulfilled," he said.
Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO in June, a decision spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine.
But Türkiye, a member of NATO for over 70 years, voiced objections to the membership bids, criticizing the countries for tolerating and even supporting terror groups.
A trilateral agreement signed among the countries in June stipulates that Finland and Sweden will not provide support to the YPG/PYD, the PKK's Syrian offshoot, nor to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) – the group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Türkiye – and said Ankara extends full support to Finland and Sweden against threats to their national security.
Türkiye’s parliament must ratify Finland and Sweden’s membership bids for them to join NATO.
"Our country has been left alone in its fight not only with PKK and its extensions, but also with FETO. We still do not accept the FETO ringleader (Fetullah Gulen) walking free despite the folders full of documents we have given to American authorities," Erdogan said, referring to the US failure to extradite Gulen, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania.
"No NATO country should be a safe haven for FETO scoundrels and PKK terrorists fleeing Turkish justice," he added.
Türkiye works to achieve peace in Caucasus
Erdogan said the international community "unfortunately" kept silent when Azerbaijani territories were occupied by Armenia until fall 2020, when with Turkish help, Azerbaijan took back its land.
"To put an end to this injustice, the support of Türkiye was given to the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Thanks to an epic struggle that lasted for 44 days, Karabakh regained its freedom, and the 30-year occupation came to an end,” he said, referring to the fall 2020 conflict.
"With the agreements reached, a new era started in the South Caucasus. We are working hard to ensure that this historic opportunity is not wasted.”
Relations between the two former Soviet countries have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.
New clashes erupted in September 2020 and the 44-day conflict saw Azerbaijan liberate several cities and more than 300 settlements and villages that were occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.
Türkiye and Armenia have since taken "important steps" toward peace in the Caucasus, and have appointed representatives to normalize ties, Erdogan said.
"I believe that our region will be stabilized in a short time if Armenia reads the developments correctly and responds to the sincere calls of Azerbaijan and Türkiye," he added.