November 11, 2015 / 9:30 AM / in 2 years

Turkey's Erdogan puts Syria, Iraq on G20 leaders' agenda

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 4, 2015 in this handout photo provided by Presidential Press Office. REUTERS/Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he wanted world leaders to discuss conflicts in Syria and Iraq at a G20 summit in Turkey this weekend and is ready to take “stronger steps” in the region after polls this month strengthened the ruling party,

Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies (G20), including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia and Brazil, are to meet on Sunday and Monday in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya primarily to discuss global economic issues.

But host Turkey, a NATO member which has taken in more than two million refugees and faces a growing threat of spillover from the conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq, wants the heads of state to also discuss unrest over its southern borders.

“Our inclusion of issues of Iraq and Syria to the G20 agenda is not against the primary objectives of the platform,” Erdogan told a business meeting in the capital Ankara.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday that Turkey would respond by air and land to threats from Syria and that a new strategy was needed in the country.

Turkey, which holds the rotating presidency of the G20 this year, is expected to press its argument that there can be no lasting peace in Syria without the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, and to try to dissuade Washington from lending greater support to Syrian Kurdish rebels fighting Islamic State.

The EU aspirant has seen its worst nightmare unfold in Syria. Ankara faces not only the threat from Islamic State along its border, but also the prospect of Assad, shielded by Russia and Iran, holding on to power, and Kurdish rebels backed by the United States making territorial gains.

Turkey, which opened its air bases in July to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, sees advances by Syrian Kurds along an area abutting Turkey as a threat to its security, fearing they could stoke separatism among its own Kurds.

“Anyone ferrying wood to the Syrian fire will find themselves burning. It is a friendly warning,” Erdogan, who has said Turkey will not hesitate to take military action against the Syrian Kurdish PYD if needed, said on Wednesday.

Russia, which supports Assad, wants the Syrian government and opposition to agree on launching a constitutional reform process of up to 18 months, followed by early presidential elections, according to a draft document obtained by Reuters.

The proposal, drawn up before international talks on Syria in Vienna this week, does not rule out Assad’s participation in the election, something Ankara and the Syrian leader’s other foes are likely to oppose.

“NEW STRATEGY”

Turkey’s ruling AK Party, founded by Erdogan, regained the parliamentary majority it had lost just five months earlier in an election a week and a half ago. That meant Turkey could now act with more authority in the region, Erdogan said.

“The result ... completely removed political uncertainty in Turkey and gave us the opportunity to take stronger steps on regional issues,” he said, without elaborating.

The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said Turkey would share a 51-page “information note” on Syria at the G20 summit, presenting formulas for a future without Assad, and will insist on a 10-year “safe zone” plan for civilians in northern Syria.

Turkey has long pushed for the creation of a safe zone on the Syrian side of its 900 km (560-mile) border to protect displaced civilians and stop the flow of refugees, a strategy it has again been championing as European leaders seek its help in containing the migration crisis.

The idea has gained little international traction.

Yeni Safak also said U.S.-led coalition forces would launch operations against the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria next month and that Turkey would position more than 10,000 special forces soldiers along its border in support.

Two senior government officials said the report, which appeared to be an attempt to bolster Turkey’s position ahead of the summit, was exaggerated but acknowledged that new strategies were under consideration.

The G20 has so far mainly been a forum to deal with global economic issues and the chances of forging a common position on Syria at the summit are remote. But it would be a key topic in bilateral meetings on the sidelines, officials said.

Additional reporting by Melih Aslan and Daren Butler in Istanbul, Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton

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