Ties too strong: Turkey dismisses Macron claim that Ankara and Moscow ‘separated’ over Syria strikes

France, the US and the UK did not manage to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia in the latest confrontation over Syria, senior Turkish officials said, refuting French President Emmanuel Macron’s claim.

Macron on Sunday defended his decision to use military force together with the US and the UK against Syria. The pretext for the Friday night attack was the claim that Damascus used chemical weapons against civilians in the capital’s suburb of Douma a week prior to the Western raids.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets French President Emmanuel Macron © Kevin Lamarque

Among other things, the French president claimed that the operation drove Turkey and Russia apart. “With those strikes we have separated the Russians and the Turks on this. The Turks condemned the chemical weapons,” he told the BFM television channel.

He failed to note, however, that Turkey, Russia and Iran have been at the forefront of a process aimed at ending the seven-year war in Syria, which included the establishing of ceasefire zones. The steps have promoted negotiations between various Syrian forces and are helping a wider resolution of the conflict under the UN aegis in Geneva.

Macron’s assertion was rebuked on Monday by senior officials in Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said his country didn’t side with either participant in the latest Syrian escalation.

“Turkey’s Syria policy isn’t to stand with or against any country. There is no change to the policy Turkey has been carrying out,” Bozdag told reporters during a visit to Qatar.

Similar remarks came from Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said Turkey’s ties with Russia were “too strong” for Macron to break apart.

“The French president said Turkey and Russia have been separated because of the airstrikes. This is not true. We have differences of opinion, but our relations with Russia are too strong for the French president to sever,” he assured.

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French President Emmanuel Macron (C) poses on the TV set before an interview with RMC-BFM journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin (R) and Mediapart investigative website journalist Edwy Plenel (L), at the Theatre National de Chaillot  in Paris, France, April 15, 2018, Francois Guillot

Cavusoglu, who was hosting visiting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, said Ankara didn’t see having good relations with Moscow as detrimental to having good relations with NATO, Paris or Washington. “I would suggest that Macron was more serious on such issues,” Cavusoglu added.

The Kremlin too denied feeling separated from the Turkish government after the US-led airstrikes. “The differences that Moscow and Ankara have on some issues are not secret. But we continue to discuss our differences and they in no way affect our comprehensive cooperation and joint projects in the economy and other areas,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

The airstrikes against targets in Syria, which the US and its allies claimed had been used to produce and deploy chemical weapons, were conducted with no UN mandate. Macron claimed that since three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were participating, the decision was legitimate enough. The two other members, Russia and China, condemned the operation.

Macron as well as his counterparts – US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May – have been accused by some critics of overstepping their authority in ordering the strikes.

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