US-Turkish relations at their lowest point – Vice President expresses optimism about a Cyprus solution, during a Harvard speech.
Washington, DC.- Strained U.S. – Turkish relations crossed another dramatic line on Saturday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his anger to reporters in Istanbul and demanded an apology from Vice President Joe Biden, for saying that Turkey’s leader had admitted his country had made mistakes allowing foreign fighters to cross into Syria.
“Biden has to apologize for his statements, or Biden will become “history to me,” Erdogan said, according to published reports by the semi-official Anadolu news agency.
Biden called Erdogan and according to a White House readout, “The Vice President apologized for any implication that Turkey or other Allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria.”
During their telephone conversation, Biden and Erdogan reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to fight the terror group.
“The Vice President made clear that the United States greatly values the commitments and sacrifices made by our Allies and partners from around the world to combat the scourge of ISIL, including Turkey.”
The problem appears to have originated during a question-and-answer session following a speech on Thursday at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University when Biden was asked about Turkey and the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State terror group, known as ISIS or ISIL.
“President Erdogan told me, he’s an old friend, said, ‘You were right. We let too many people through.’ Now they are trying to seal their border,” he said, according to transcripts.
“Our allies poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against al-Assad,” he said, including jihadists planning to join the Nusra Front and al-Qaida.
Biden also praised the Turkish parliamentary vote on Thursday that authorized cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq to tackle militants from the Islamic State and would allow foreign forces to use Turkish territory for incursions.
“It took a while for Turkey, a Sunni nation, to figure out that ISIL was a direct and immediate threat to their well-being, Mr. Biden was quoted as saying.
Erdogan denied ever saying such a thing.
. “Foreign fighters never crossed into Syria from our country,” Mr. Erdogan said. “They would cross into Syria from Turkey on tourist passports, but nobody can claim that they have crossed with arms.”
In September, Turkey agreed to join a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, but declined to sign a communiqué calling for military action because the group was holding 46 Turkish citizens as hostages.
After the hostages were released in a covert intelligence operation, Turkey gained more flexibility in addressing the threat.
Instead of making a firm military commitment, however, Mr. Erdogan on Saturday underlined the importance of setting up a buffer and no-fly zone inside Syria to prevent an influx of refugees, and called for training and equipment for moderate Syrian opposition forces.
BIDEN’s COMMENTS ON CYPRUS
During his speech on Thursday at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Vice President Biedn also commented on Cyprus, expressing optimism about the prospects for a settlement, given the changes in the area.
Replying to a question by doctorate candidate Constantinos Papalucas, a Greek Cypriot refugee from the ghost town of Famagusta, Biden spoke about his deep involvement with the issue, using twice the term illegal occupation.
“I’ve been deeply involved more than anybody else in the Congress with the Cyprus issue in my entire career. As a matter a fact my friends call me Joe Bidenopoulos. You know where I come from. It’s not a joke. I am passionately engaged ever since the illegal occupation.”
Biden spoke about his recent visit to Cypus and his meetings with the President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
“Three things have occurred. Number one, Turkey fully understands it is no longer in their interest; they have no interest to have troops remaining on Cyprus. Number two, Erdogan has made the break with the only constituency to whom occupation mattered and that was the military. Number three. At least when I met with him, he is committed to see me in Ankara and see if we can do two things. One, reach a solution he says he would agree on a bizonal bicommunal island.”
Biden said that Erdogan is beginning to realize that there is an overwhelming self interest for Turkey, in taking advantage of the significant recourses, particularly gas, that are in Eastern Mediterranean.
“That can play a significant role in liberating not only Turkey, but Greece too, from Russia’s use of energy as a weapon.”
While in New York, Biden met with both Erdogan and Anastasiades and last week in Washington with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and he feels there is a possibility for movement. He revealed that a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State is at present in Ankara for talks on these issues.
“Let me put it this way. Nations when they no longer have an overwhelming interest in the maintenance of status quo – and Turkey doesn’t have an interest in the maintenance of status quo in Cyprus – and when no opportunities present themselves where they can benefit without looking like they have capitulated – and Cyprus also benefits significantly – things change.”, Vice President Biden added.
He has also described gas reserves as “the lubricant to bring an end to the very unfair circumstances that exist” in Cyprus since the late 1970s.
“Tthe way to do is not to dwell on what in the past went wrong, but look at the opportunities presented, to see if there is a win-win situation for everybody to get out of this. And the reason I can say that is because I am Irish. And we understand about occupation. As George Mitchell said, the Irish Accord was 700 days of failure and one day of success. I believe will find one day of success.”