ISTANBUL – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country should not repeat in Syria the same mistake it made in Iraq when it turned down a U.S. request to be part of the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein.
“We don’t want to fall into the same mistake in Syria as in Iraq,” the president said, recounting how Turkey’s parliament denied a U.S. request to use its territories for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “It’s important to see the horizon. What’s going on in Syria can only go on for so long. At some point it has to change,” he told journalists on the return flight from a tour of Latin America according to Hurriyet newspaper.
Opposition forces supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are losing more ground to the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Hezbollah militants and Russian airstrikes. Turkey has repeatedly urged the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State group militants in Syria and Iraq to increase its support for moderate rebel groups seeking the ouster of Assad.
Had parliament approved the U.S. request to join the coalition in 2003, “Turkey would have been at the table,” Erdogan said. Asked if Turkey could manage some sudden development in Syria, he said “You don’t talk about these things, when necessary, you do what’s needed. Right now our security forces are prepared for all possibilities.”
The United Nations last week suspended its long-awaited peace conference in Geneva until later this month, after Syrian forces launched a major offensive against rebels, edging closer to retake the city of Aleppo. The talks came after four months of Russian airstrikes helped reverse the tide of the war in favor of Assad’s military.
“What are you doing in Syria? You’re essentially an occupier,” Erdogan said, addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin, the daily reported.