Erdogan backtracks on Syria goals after call with Putin, says terrorists are only target

Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria does not target any country or individual, and is aimed only at terrorist groups, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. He had earlier stated that Turkey was in Syria to “end the rule of the cruel Assad.”

“The aim of the Euphrates Shield Operation [in northern Syria] is not any country or person, but only terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said Thursday, as quoted by the Hurryiet Daily News.

“No one should doubt this issue that we have uttered over and over, and no one should comment on it in another fashion or try to derail it,” he added.

The latest comments come in contrast to remarks Erdogan made on Tuesday, when he said Turkey’s operation in Syria, launched in late August, aimed “to end the rule of the tyrant [Syrian President] al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror.”

This drew surprise from Russia, which asked for clarification of the remarks.

According to Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov, this was provided when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Erdogan discussed the issue by phone on Wednesday.

"I can only say that a telephone conversation between our president and Erdogan took place yesterday, and the topic [of Turkey’s presence in Syria] was addressed. Yes, he [Erdogan] gave an explanation," Ushakov told reporters on Thursday, without elaborating.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Ankara’s operation in Syria is aimed at combating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and other armed terrorist groups.

"Currently, in the framework of the ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation we are specifically working with our partners and allies. Our goal is to clear Syria, this region, from Daesh [Arabic pejorative term for Islamic State], from terrorists and Al-Nusra [Front] insurgents," Cavusoglu said, speaking at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Mediterranean town of Alanya.

"We will continue to pursue a policy that is harmonic and coincides with the position of Russia – to search for and find a political solution to the conflict and to provide systematic humanitarian assistance," Cavusoglu added, as quoted by the Interfax.

He stated that Turkey's policy on Syria "remains unchanged."

"We are cooperating with other countries, but we think that our close cooperation with Russia will provide greater benefits," Cavusoglu said.

Without a political solution on Syria, the fight against IS may prove ineffective, the Turkish foreign minister acknowledged following the meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Lavrov stressed on Thursday that he expected close Russia-Turkey cooperation on Syria to help make a real contribution to the implementation of decisions by the international community.