Petříček: EU should step up pressure on Turks if operation in Syria continues

23-10-2019

The Czech minister of foreign affairs has come out in favour of firmer EU action against Turkey over its offensive into Northern Syria and attacks on Kurds. Tomáš Petříček says Russia and the Damascus government are benefiting most from the current situation – and says further talks on Turkey joining the EU are at present impossible.

Tomáš Petříček, photo: Barbora NěmcováTomáš Petříček, photo: Barbora Němcová Just over a fortnight ago, President Trump announced he was pulling US troops out of northeastern Syria.

Soon after, Turkey entered that territory and launched an offensive against the Kurds, who had fought Islamic State militants alongside the US for years.

Since then hundreds of people have been killed in battle, the majority of them Kurdish civilians and fighters.

Speaking to Czech Radio, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček said the Czech Republic had been long-term supporters of the Kurds.

He also questioned Donald Trump’s policy about-turn.

“Unfortunately I regard it as a strategic mistake on the part of the US, who announced they would withdraw their soldiers.

"To be frank, we cleared out of Syria in a moment when a political process had been launched focused on creating a new Syrian constitution that would make it possible to overcome that longstanding conflict.

Photo: ČTK/AP/STRPhoto: ČTK/AP/STR "So for us it’s important to continue with those efforts, particularly at the UN.”

The Czech foreign policy chief said the EU had made considerable efforts to diffuse the conflict in northern Syria, which has caused the displacement of over 175,000 people.

“Both the Czech Republic and the EU have repeatedly responded to the offensive. I was pleased by the relatively strong EU joint statement and the conclusions of the European Council last week.

"We were also among the first to halt the export of military materials to Turkey. In addition, we backed the approval of a package of sanctions that can be activated at any time and developed further.

"Above all, there should be diplomatic pressure on Turkey to halt the military offensive.”

Speaking ahead of a deal on a “safe zone” in the region freshly agreed by Turkey and Russia, Minister Petříček said European leaders needed to be ready to take further action if needed.

Kurdish soldiers, photo: Kurdishstruggle, Flickr, CC BY 2.0Kurdish soldiers, photo: Kurdishstruggle, Flickr, CC BY 2.0 “I’m convinced we should further intensify the pressure on Turkey, if it doesn’t end the military operation and doesn’t curb the further spreading of the conflict, in particular with regard to its impact on the civilian population…

"One thing I can say is that the whole situation is most benefiting Russia and its ally, the Damascus government.”

In a separate interview for Novinky.cz, Mr. Petříček insisted that Turkey was an important partner within NATO but said it was at present failing to act positively as a stabilising force in the Middle East.

He also said the situation in Turkey with regard to the rule of law, democracy and human rights currently ruled out the Ankara government making any headway on the issue of joining the EU.

23-10-2019