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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Turkey Announces More Active Role in Syria Conflict

By VOA News August 20, 2016

Turkey will take a more active role in Syria in the next six months to prevent further divisions along ethnic lines, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced Saturday.

"We say the bloodshed needs to stop. Babies, children, innocent people should not die," he told reporters in Istanbul. "That's why Turkey will be more active in trying to stop the danger getting worse in the next six months."

Yildirim went on to say that Syria's president Bashar al-Assad had no role in Syria's future, but that talks with him would be necessary during a transitional period as "he is one of the actors today no matter whether we like it or not".

"We may sit and talk (with Assad) for the transition. A transition may be facilitated. But we believe that there should be no PKK, Daesh, or Assad in Syria's future," he said, referring to Kurdish rebel groups and using the Arabic term for Islamic State.

Yildirim expressed concern about the ethnic divides created by the five-year war in Syria, where Kurdish groups have carved out their own regions and occasionally engage in fighting with Syria's Arab majority. On Thursday, Syria's Air Force for the first time began bombing Kurdish fighters in Hasaka, a city in the northeast where Kurds and Syrian government forces had been loosely working together to drive out Islamic State militants. The airstrikes marked the most violent confrontation between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces since the civil war began in 2011.

Turkey is battling militants of the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) and is concerned about the growing power of Kurds across the border, opposing any moves toward autonomy or independence.

Still, Yildirim said that Turkey is not pessimistic about Syria, and that he remains confident that Iran, Gulf Arab states, Russia, and the U.S. can work together to find a solution.

Yildirim denied rumors that Turkey would allow Russia to use their military base Incirlik, which is currently being used by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

Yildirim also reiterated that Ankara wants Washington to speed up proceedings against Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, currently living in the U.S., whom it accuses of being behind the coup which left over 200 dead.

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to travel to Turkey on Wednesday, marking the first visit by a Western leader to Ankara since the failed coup July 15th.

A delegation of U.S. Justice and State Department officials will be traveling to Ankara to discuss the extradition request, a Justice Department official told Reuters, but refused to give a date.

But Yildirim said that the vice president's visit would not open up discussion of compromise on the issue.

"Improving our relations with the United States depends on the extradition of Gulen, and on that issue there is no room for negotiation," Yildirim told CNN Turk after the visit was announced last week.

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