Addressing a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, US President Trump said Europe was not owning up to its responsibilities regarding the Syrian refugee crisis.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the end of a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, November 13, 2019
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands at the end of a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, November 13, 2019 (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of people died because a safe zone was not implemented quickly enough in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Erdogan made the comments during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump following four hours of bilateral meetings that also included a sit-down with Republican senators.

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9 to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey's borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria's territorial integrity.

On October 17, the US and Turkey came to an agreement to pause the operation to allow the withdrawal of terrorist YPG/PKK forces from the planned safe zone, where Ankara wants to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees it is currently hosting.

Turkey first requested the establishment of the safe zone during a G20 meeting in Antalya in 2015.

Erdogan said that during the operation, Turkey secured the return of 365,000 Syrians to Jarablus, the northern border town that was cleared during the operation.

The Turkish president added that it is "regrettable" that YPG/PKK leader Ferhat Abdi Sahin, also known as Mazloum Kobane, is taken seriously by Washington.

Erdogan said Sahin is a "terrorist who caused the deaths of hundreds of Turkish people" and is like an adopted son to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey views Sahin as a terrorist linked to the PKK, whose Syrian branch is the YPG. The PKK is a designated terrorist group in both the US and Turkey as well as the European Union. 

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
Erdogan reiterated that Turkey "has no problem with Kurds" and only takes issue with terrorist organisations.

He reiterated his remarks regarding terror groups in Syria being falsely labelled as 'Kurds'.

"There is something very important I want you to know. My political party has more than 50 MPs of Kurdish ethnicity in the Turkish parliament. We don't have problems with the Kurds. But we have problems with the terrorists," Erdogan said.

Erdogan added that "Turkey and the US can work together to bring peace, stability to Syria and completely finish" the Daesh/ISIS terror organization.

Turning to the anti-Daesh fight, Trump said Turkey is helping "a lot" in the effort, capturing all Daesh/ISIS militants escaping prisons controlled by the YPG/PKK.

Asked who should be responsible for repatriating Daesh fighters, Trump said he believes "Europe should be paying for it to a large extent."  He said as of now, Turkey has "spent over 40 billion dollars on the cost" of repatriating Daesh members.  

Trump also made comments on Europe not owning up to its responsibilities regarding the refugee crisis.

"Europe has contributed about three (billion). And a lot of these people would go all throughout Europe. I mean, it would be a devastating situation for Europe because he's got four million people. He has a lot of Kurds, too, that they're helping and taking care of," he said 

Trump met with Erdogan as relations between the NATO allies have fallen to their lowest point in decades, with the US having armed and allied the YPG/PKK terror group in Syria.

Washington has faced harsh backlash for trying to legitimise YPG terror group leader Ferhat Abdi Sahin.

Trump insisted the US maintains "a great relationship with the Kurds," and claimed Turkey and Erdogan also "has a great relationship with the Kurds."

"Many of the Kurds live currently in Turkey and they are happy and they are taken care of," Trump said.

Trump and Erdogan concluded a visit without achieving an agreement on Turkey’s decision earlier this year to accept delivery of a Russian air defence system that poses such a threat to NATO security that the US suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program.

The Turkish president told reporters he might be persuaded to use the US-made Patriot system “as well” as the Russian S-400. Trump said they would agree to keep working on the issue.

“The acquisition of the S-400 creates some very serious challenges for us,” Trump said. “Hopefully we'll be able to resolve that situation.”

Despite the differences, Trump said he believes the two sides can substantially increase trade, which amounted to about $24 billion in 2017.

“We think we can bring trade up very quickly to about $100 billion between our countries,” Trump said.

The dispute over the competing air defence systems is a major component of the tension between the two countries.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies