Turkey moves tanks into Syria in fight against ISIS

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Turkish army tanks and military personal are stationed in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo - RTX2NUZK

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Today, Turkey again deployed tanks inside Syria to target positions held by Islamic State militants.  Twenty Turkish tanks backed by artillery entered northern Syria, about 35 miles from where Turkish forces first crossed into the country ten days ago.  Turkey says its military has no plans to stay in Syria, but aims to protect its border from ISIS, and separatist Kurdish militias.

The incursion comes on the eve of a bilateral meeting between President Obama and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in China.

I’m joined now by Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, who is on a U.S. visit and is in Chicago.

Thanks for joining us.

First of all, there’s going to be a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 between President Obama and President Erdogan.  Well, what are you expecting from this meeting?

NUMAN KURTULMUS, TURKEY’S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:  We expect it will be very positive conversation between two presidents.  So, especially focus on bilateral relations with Turkey and the United States, and also the common interests of both countries, and the Middle Eastern region, especially in fighting with the terrorist organization, including I.S. and PKK.

Our expectation is this meeting will have positive effects on the future of the Turkish-American relations.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Will your president be asking our president to extradite Fethullah Gulen?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: Of course.  Of course, our intention is very clear that Fethullah Gulen is the leader of the terrorist group who tried to make a coup attempt in 15th of July in Turkey.  It was a bloody attempt, unfair coup d’etat attempt.  So, he has links with the group who intended to change democratically elected government and the president of Turkey.

So, our major expectation is to either extradite Gulen to Turkey or to detain him here until the court will answer here in the United States.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Your government has sent multiple dossiers to the U.S. intelligence community.  The U.S. citizens don’t know what it is.  What’s evidence do you have that connects Gulen to the failed coup attempt.  Why do you think he did it and he orchestrated it?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: It is a group of people who have a very clear can connection with Gulen, and also the Gulenist movement in general.  So, there are so many military personnel on the file.  They have clear connections with Gulen, and the movement of — himself.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does Turkey think that the United States played a part in the coup attempt?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: No, actually, it is not our official view.  Some people on the newspaper, Turkish newspaper, made such a kind of decisions, but it is not our official view.  We still continue having a good relations with the United States.  So, we don’t see any clear evidence that some of the authorities of United States is behind the coup d’etat attempt in Turkey.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, your president has called Fethullah Gulen’s influence a virus and after the coup, the government has had a very, very strong crackdown.  You’ve fired some 80,000 civil servants, thousands of people, including judges and prosecutors have been jailed.

So many people have been jailed that you have to make room for them releasing some of the criminals.  And you’ve had a crackdown on the media.

How do you know that all of these people are guilty if they haven’t had trials?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: No, not all of these people are guilty.  They’re under investigation.  The investigations are still going on.

So, actually, it is a very huge conflict between the Turkish state, and the group of Gulenist movement.  So, they hide themselves during the last 40 years inside the state hierarchy.  They are in very strategically important position in the civil service.  So, we have to clean up our state services from those people who are criminals or they help the criminal people in creating a coup d’etat attempt in 15th of July.

So, those files are under investigations.  They found none of the people guilty yet, but the court cases are still going on and also investigations for the public service servants are still continuing.  So, we will wait and see the end of the– the result of the cases, every individual cases after the evaluation by legal authorities.

HARI SREENIVASAN:One of the things that the Turkish government has been interested in just in the past month has been trying to reinstate the death penalty, and that’s something the European Union says is a red line.

So, which would Turkey prefer, the death penalty or membership into the E.U.?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: Actually, it is not official case.  Now, people demanded on treason in the squares (ph) in the march against the coup d’etat attempt.  They are demanding that penalty.  It is not on the agenda of the existing democratically elected government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.  Finally, let me ask you a little bit about the Kurds.  I don’t claim to know all about Kurdish politics, but the top priority for the United States in Syria is to fight the Islamic State.  In that fight, the U.S. has Kurdish forces in allies that we are arming in that fight.

The day that Vice President Biden came to Turkey to meet with your president, Turkish tanks went into Syria and they attacked Kurdish troops that the U.S. supports.

So, if you’re an enemy of our ally, are you our ally?

NUMAN KURTULMUS: Well, actually, it is not the Kurdish troop.  We have to make it correct.  So, this is a group of terrorist organizations named PYD or YPG.  So, we are not against the Kurds in the northern part of the Syrian territories.  The Kurds are the native people of those — this region, and also in the meantime, Arabs and the Turkmens are the original people of the region.

Our position is that we are against having one party region in the northern territories of Syria.  So, that’s why if YPG or PYD makes it more than 911 kilometers length of territory, as PYD territory, it is not acceptable from Turkey.

So, we are OK for the existence of the Kurds in the region.  But all other people, Arabs, Kurd, Turks and others must live there for long.

So, we are against the terrorist activities of PYD.  As you know, PYD also has very strong connections with PKK, which is a clear terrorist organization, and also PKK is accepted by the Western countries as one of the major terrorist organizations in the region.

So Turkey is fighting with PKK.  PYD and YPG are providing logistics for PKK inside Turkey.  That’s why it is also again unacceptable for Turkey, the activities of PYD and YPG in the region.

So, as a strategic alliance, and as partner of the United States under the umbrella of NATO, we are fighting against internationally organized terrorist organizations, including Daesh, or I.S. — whatever you call it — and also PYD is a branch of PKK, which is one of the major threats to Turkey as a terrorist organization.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, thank you for joining us.

NUMAN KURTULMUS: I thank you so much.

END

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