Turkish PM says no role for 'terrorist groups' in Syria talks

Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia on Thursday of jeopardizing peace talks on Syria

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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia on Thursday of jeopardizing peace talks on Syria planned for next week by insisting on the inclusion of “terrorist groups” such as the Kurdish YPG militia on the opposition side.

Turkey is concerned by the growing influence of the YPG, across its borders in Syria, and the support it receives from Washington in combating Islamic State. It fears expansion could further nourish Kurdish rebellion on its own territory.

A Syrian opposition council backed by Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it would not attend internationally-brokered negotiations with the Syrian government, due to start in Geneva on Jan. 25, if a third group took part.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Davutoglu backed that position by the council, saying it alone should decide who represents the Syrian opposition at the Geneva talks.

“Turkey will be supporting any initiative for a political solution in Syria, except the only criteria we want is that the moderate opposition should be represented by their own will and initiative. There should not be any representation of terrorist groups around the table,” Davutoglu said.

“Some circles, including Russia, they want to spoil the opposition side, putting some other elements in the opposition side like the YPG, which has been collaborating with the regime and attacking the moderate opposition,” he said.

“If others want to be round the table, they can be on the regime side.”

The United Nations has said it would not issue invitations to the talks until major powers promoting the negotiations, which include the United States and Russia, agree which rebel representatives should attend.

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday the talks may be delayed, but that major powers must keep up the pressure to bring participants to the table.

Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have rejected attempts by Saudi Arabia, which like the United States, European powers and Turkey opposes Assad, to organize the Syrian opposition and delegation for the talks.

Davutoglu said he had met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier on Thursday and made Turkey’s position clear.

“For a solution, we have to identify the parties to the solution. One party is clear, the regime. Another party is clear, the opposition. Opposition means moderate Syrian opposition, the genuine opposition, and this is the Syrian national coalition (formed in Riyadh),” he said.

Turkey does not want to see territorial gains by the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. While the group is fighting Islamic State, Ankara sees it as closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has fought a three-decade insurgency for greater autonomy in Turkey.

The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

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