Turkey, France eye to eye on Syrian policies except YPG stance - foreign ministers

Turkey disapproves of France’s relationship with Kurdish militias in northern Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a bilateral meeting in Ankara on Thursday.

Çavuşoğlu said the disagreement over France’s support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) was the only area their Syrian policies do not overlap, Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The YPG has been instrumental in the international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), and is still seen by western states including France and the United States as a crucial ally in the late stages of the Syrian conflict.

However, Turkey views the group as a terrorist organisation due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought Turkish security forces for Kurdish self-rule since launching a separatist insurgency in 1984.

The PKK is on Turkey’s terror list, and is banned in the European Union and France.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has launched two cross-border operations against the YPG and its allies in Northern Syria, and it has threatened a third against the group in the large territories it holds east of the Euphrates river.

French President Emmanuel Macron drew outrage from Turkish officials in April, when he hosted representatives from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group dominated by the YPG, promising them financial support for humanitarian needs and active suppot against the remnants of ISIS.

However, Ankara viewed swift accumulation of northern Syrian territories during the campaign against ISIS as a dangerous development that could lead to the creation of an autonymous Kurdish state on Turkey’s border.

Turkish Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said on Thursday the creation of such a state was no longer possible thanks to the “shrewd leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”.

Le Drian affirmed the two countries’ shared aims elsewhere in Syria, voicing his support for Turkey’s attempts to quash the violence in Idlib, the last opposition-controlled province in the country.

Ankara and Moscow signed a deal last year to prevent an attack on Idlib by Syrian regime forces, but fighting broke out again this year after radical jihadist groups became prominent in the province, violating the terms of the agreement.

The Russian and Syrian bombardment that followed has destroyed homes and infrastructure in the province and killed hundreds of civilians, forcing thousands to flee to camps near the Turkish border and threatening to spark a serious humanitarian crisis.

“Our priority is to restore peace and tranquility in Idlib to prevent a new humanitarian and security crisis,” Anadolu quoted Le Drian as saying.

The French minister also denied reports published in the Greek press last month that French forces would deploy permanently in Cyprus.

The press reports said France and Cyprus had signed a deal that would allow French warships to use a naval dock on the island of Cyprus.

European countries back the Greek Cypriots’ bid to extract hydrocarbons in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. Turkey opposes the exploitation of resources without the agreement of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the north of the island. Tensions have flared over the issue this month, when Turkey sent a drillship to explore off the coast of Cyprus.