In a televised interview, Turkey's President Erdogan also floated the idea of visiting Washington after March, adding that the European Council’s decision on whether ascension talks with Turkey should be shelved “has no bearing”.

Erdogan says around 311,000 Syrians have returned to areas cleared by Turkey of terrorists.
Erdogan says around 311,000 Syrians have returned to areas cleared by Turkey of terrorists. (AA)

Any safe zone along Turkey's border with Syria must be under Turkish control, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday in an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk.

He was speaking after a senior US administration official said on Friday that Washington would leave about 400 US troops in Syria, a reversal by President Donald Trump that could pave the way for US allies to keep troops there.

"If there is to be a safe zone along our border then it must be under our control. Because that is my border," Erdogan said.

Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria in December after saying they had defeated Daesh, a decision criticised by allies and US lawmakers.

Trump was persuaded on Thursday that about 200 US troops should join what is expected to be a total commitment of some 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up a safe zone in northeastern Syria, a US administration official said.

US support for the YPG-dominated SDF, which controls the region, is a bone of contention between Ankara and Washington.

The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is considered as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Trump in Turkey?

Erdogan also said he may visit the US, or President Donald Trump may pay a visit to Turkey after the March 31 local elections.

Erdogan added that he has a "positive relationship" with his US counterpart Trump.

Touching upon Turkey-Egypt relations, President Erdogan said he will never meet with such a person referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

He went on to say that the execution of 42 people under Sisi was unacceptable.

President Erdogan also said that the European Parliament's decision to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey did not have "any value" for Ankara.

Europe owes its safety to 'sacrifices of Turkey'

Europe owes its current peace to the "sacrifices of Turkey" and its people, Erdogan said earlier on Saturday.

"The European people are living in peace and security "because of the sacrifices of Turkey and the Turkish nation," Erdogan said, adding "They [Syrians] want to return to their homeland as soon as possible."

He said around 311,000 Syrians have returned to areas in Afrin, Jarablus and Idlib that were cleared of terrorists by Turkish forces and its allies.

Erdogan noted that Turkey was pushing to make the region of Idlib totally secure and said Ankara had made "significant progress" in talks with Russia and Iran in this regard.

He underlined if cooperation from these countries was not possible, Ankara was determined to reach this goal through its own efforts.

Syrians waiting for Manbij return

Calling for support for Turkey’s efforts to facilitate the return of Syrians to their country, Erdogan stressed at least 500,000 Syrians were waiting for Turkey to secure the northern Syrian town of Manbij –– currently under the control of the YPG/PYD/PKK terror group –– before being able to return to the region.

"Millions of Syrians will return home when we secure the east of the Euphrates [river]," Erdogan said.

Turkey has promised a counter-terrorist operation east of the Euphrates in northern Syria, following two similar successful operations since 2016.

Turkish operations

Since 2016, Turkey’s Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in northwestern Syria have liberated the region from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists, including Al Bab, Afrin and Azaz, making it possible for Syrians who fled the violence there to return home.

In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies