Turkish President Calls for peace with Greece, while asking for exchange of the two Greek soldiers with the 8 asylum; expresses sharp criticism against the U.S.
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, Anadolu, Reuters)
While Turkey is moving for early elections on June 24, the country’s President Tayyip Erdogan is going out of control attacking Greece and the United States, while at the same time he speaks about the need to make peace.
In a live interview with broadcaster NTV, President Erdogan said his government would consider the case of two Greek soldiers jailed in Turkey if Athens extradited the eight Turkish soldiers suspected of the 2016 failed coup.
Turkey is holding in pre-trial detention two Greek soldiers who crossed the border on March 2, claiming to have lost their way in the fog. The pair, held in the northern Turkish province of Edirne, has been charged with espionage.
“They (Greece) ask us to give back the Greek soldiers and we told them ‘if you make such a demand, you should first give us FETO soldiers involved in a coup against our state’,” Erdogan told the private NTV television in an interview.
“If they are handed to us, we will consider” the situation on Greek soldiers, he said.
Erdogan said Greece had become a “first stop” for coup suspects who later flee to other European countries.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras earlier this month demanded the release of the two soldiers, arguing that they should not be “pawns to blackmail”.
In the same interview, Erdogan late Saturday called for peace with Greece, while praising Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and President Prokopios Pavlopoulos/
“We need peace now. Besides, our peace with you is like no other,” Erdogan was quoted as saying on Turkey’s NTV channel.
Tayyip Erdogan reportedly referred to Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as a “young, dynamic” leader with a desire “to take a new step.” He was quoted as saying he believed President Prokopis Pavlopoulos was “in the same spirit.”
According to an earlier report on Saturday by state news agency Anadolu, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul had written to his Greek counterpart Stavros Kontonis saying “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals” after a court ruling releasing one of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece.
Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies.
The ruling issued on Thursday by Greece’s highest administrative court relates to Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece in July 2016 following Turkey’s failed coup.
However it is expected to apply to all eight servicemen.
In his comments on Friday, Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 to be protected by Greece.
“Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” he said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.”
Also on Friday Turkey’s Foreign Ministry accused Athens of “sheltering coup plotters.” It added that the Greek Supreme Court’s rejection of Ankara’s demand for the extradition of the eight “has paved the way for such an outcome which offends the public conscience.” “Our determination for the extradition of the fugitive putschists and for them to be tried in Turkey continues,” it said.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik also attacked Greece in a post on Twitter, accusing it of “provocations in the Mediterranean and Aegean in which its minister of defense is also involved.”
In comments to Skai Television on Friday morning, Greece’s Alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis expressed concerns that tensions in the Aegean will persist following a decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call snap polls for June 24.
He also confirmed that Greece is to acquire two French frigates on a five-year lease this summer, as reported by Kathimerini.
US Ambassador in Greece Geoffrey Pyatt on Friday expressed his “confidence in Greece as a pillar of stability” and underlined the “great respect my US military colleagues have for the Greek military’s [ability] to tackle numerous challenges in [the] complex Greek neighborhood.”’
Turkey’s aggressive behavior constitutes a threat in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said on Friday, during a speech at the summit meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in London.
“Turkey’s behavior, not only violates the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and is against international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea, but creates a wider threat to the sensitive area of the Eastern Mediterranean,” the president was quoted as saying at the meeting.
“It has to be dealt with as a serious violation of the sovereign rights of a member-state of the Commonwealth.”
Anastasiades thanked the Commonwealth’s heads of state and government for their continuous support in the efforts to find a fair and viable solution on the Cyprus issue citing the Joint Communique which includes an explicit reference to Cyprus.
“It is of particular importance this period the expression of solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus on exercising its sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone […] And this because Cyprus faced escalating aggression and unlawful behavior by Turkey in our EEZ,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his interview with NTV on Saturday alleged that the U.S. and its allies supply weapons to terrorists for free, while refusing to sell them to Turkey.
“We cannot buy weapons from the U.S. with our money, but unfortunately, the U.S. and coalition forces give these weapons, this ammunition, to terrorist organizations for free.”
He has also said the United States should look at its own actions if it wants the return of American Christian pastor Andrew Brunson who has been jailed in Turkey for suspected links to a 2016 failed coup.
Sixty-six U.S. senators signed a letter released on Friday urging President Tayyip Erdogan to release the pastor who faces up to 35 years in prison.
The letter, led by Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who represents Brunson’s home state North Carolina, and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, said the Senate backs efforts to strengthen cooperation between U.S. and Turkish law enforcement.
“However, we are deeply disturbed that the Turkish government has gone beyond legitimate action against the coup plotters to undermine Turkey’s own rule of law and democratic traditions,” it said.
Shaheen and Republican Senator James Lankford, who are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a separate statement that they would push for sanctions against Turkish officials in an upcoming spending bill in response to Brunson’s imprisonment.
U.S. President Donald Trump also voiced his support for Brunson on Twitter this week, writing, “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is.”
In their letter, the senators warned that unspecified measures might be necessary to ensure the Turkish government “respects the rights of law-abiding citizens” of the United States to be in Turkey without fear of prosecution.
Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.
Overall, the letter was signed by 43 Republicans and 23 Democrats.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump called Brunson “a fine gentleman and Christian leader” who was “being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”
The Trump administration warned Turkey on Wednesday that it is considering punitive “consequences” if the NATO ally does not throw out the charges or acquit an American pastor accused of espionage and aiding terrorist groups.
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Wess Mitchell, testifying on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee called the charges against Andrew Brunson, “laughable.”
“The Turks claim to have a high standard of justice, the indictment suggests otherwise,” Mitchell told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is clearly an innocent man. We are watching to see if the Turks adhere to their stated standards of justice. If that does not happen, we are considering options for consequences.”
He said the State Department is consulting with Congress about “possible measures” to take against Turkey if Brunson is not released.
Wess Mitchell noted Turkey’s “coordination with Russia and Iran,” including Ankara’s announced intent to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
If the sale does, indeed, go through, it will subject Turkey to US sanctions, mandated by Congress.
“We take this seriously and have prioritized that in our diplomatic conversations” with Ankara, Mitchell told the members of the Committee.
He also explained that Turkey’s assault on Afrin had “very much complicated” the US-led campaign against the Islamic State (IS), because it had drawn Kurdish fighters, who provide the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), away from the fight against the terrorist organization.
At Thursday’s press briefing at the State Department, in response to a question as to that whether the U.S. government has confidence in Turkish government that the fair and free elections can be held in Turkey under the state of emergency, Spokesperson Heather Nauert said:
“During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair, and transparent election in a manner that’s consistent with Turkish law and also Turkey’s international obligations… We are following this very closely. We have concerns about their (the Turkish government’s) ability to hold it (an election) during this type of state of emergency. We would certainly like to see free and fair elections, but there’s a concern here.”