Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed the United States’ Syria strategy and Middle East peace plan, saying Wednesday that one was underdeveloped and the other might not exist.
“It seems that there is no clear strategy yet” by the U.S. to dial back its military presence in Syria, Cavusoglu said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.
Cavusoglu said Turkey was getting different signals from President Donald Trump and other U.S. departments, including the military. Trump tweeted last December that the United States was withdrawing all of its troops from Syria, but since then he has gradually dialed back that declaration and committed to keeping a residual force in the country.
Turkey’s foreign minister also said he doubted the existence of a U.S. peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians — an effort that Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been leading for the U.S.. “Until today, there is no peace plan,” Cavusoglu said. “We are not sure whether there will be.”
He added that Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem showed the president’s bias towards Israel. Trump’s recent policy change recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the Six-Day war in 1967, was another decision that “everybody has been concerned about,” Cavusoglu said.
“Everybody believes the U.S. is no longer a balanced or objective” leader on the world stage, he said.
Other highlights from the interview:
- Cavusoglu maintained that Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system, the S-400, was a “done deal.” But he also said a joint U.S.-Turkish committee of technical experts should examine the American claim that Turkey’s possession of the missile defense system would compromise the new technology in the F-35. The United States has announced that it would suspend sales of the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey in response to Turkey’s deal with Russia. American experts are concerned that if the S-400 missile system is in Turkey, the Russians will gain valuable information about the F-35. Asked if Turkey would abide by the committee if it decided the Americans were correct and that the missile defense system could compromise the F-35, the foreign minister said “of course, it is our proposal.”
- The foreign minister said Turkey is still considering taking large-scale military action against the YPG, a Kurdish fighting force which has been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria but which Turkey views as a military wing of a terrorist group. “We are prepared for that option,” he said.
- Cavusoglu said Turkey’s chief prosecutor has yet to make a decision as to whether or not to release any additional details about the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. One key piece of evidence is an audio recording of the events that transpired inside the building, which Turkey has shared with the CIA but not released to the public.
- There are still key unanswered questions about the murder of Khashoggi, Cavusoglu said, including the whereabouts of his body and the identity of the mastermind of the plan. The U.S. intelligence community has identified Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as the plan’s architect — an assessment Trump and his cabinet members have contradicted in public statements. Cavusoglu also noted that the Turks shared all of their findings with the Saudis, but that “in return we couldn’t get anything from them.”