Robert Harneis- TDO- (FRANCE) - The French President is anxious to revive France’s neutralist stance that dated from the time of General de Gaulle but has so far failed to break away from American influence when it really matters.
In an interview with Reuters Turkey warned France on Thursday that it needed to choose who it wanted as an ally to fight Islamic State in Syria and urged it to do what is necessary to ensure Kurdish militias leave the northern Manbij region.
French relations with Iran suffer from the same difficulty. He wishes to increase French influence and trade with Iran but finds himself repeating American demands for Iran to stop testing missiles and threatening more sanctions directly in line with US policy.
Relations between Ankara and Paris have been tense in recent weeks, with France increasingly criticizing the two-month-old Turkish military operation against the Kurdish YPG in northern Syria, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization
That came to a head on March 30 after President Emmanuel Macron met a Syrian delegation including the YPG and its political arm, the PYD, and gave assurances of French support to help them stabilize northern Syria against Islamic State.
“Our allies will need to make a choice in favor of Turkey in the fight against Islamic State and not the PYD/YPG,” Turkish European Affairs Minister, Omer Celik, said after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“I wanted to underline that we are expecting that France does nothing to encourage or support the YPG/PYD.”
He dismissed any suggestion of France playing a mediating role between the two sides, saying that Paris needed to understand that the Kurdish Syrian groups were no different to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state within Turkey. “I said that any help offered to the PYD/YPG would be deemed help for terrorism,” Celik said.
France, like the United States, has already extended arms and training to the YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State, and has dozens of special forces members based in the region, which has infuriated Turkey.
A PYD member in Paris said last week that Macron had promised to send more troops to northern Syria, provide humanitarian assistance and push for a diplomatic solution. After his initial talk of sending troops to Manjib , he seems to have back tracked a bit.
The French presidency did not confirm that Macron had pledged more troops, but a presidential source said France could bolster its military intervention in Syria “within the existing framework” of the U.S.-led coalition.
France’s foreign ministry said in a statement it remained concerned by Turkish military operations in the Afrin region.
The minister “stressed that our common priority must remain the total eradication of Daesh (Islamic State),” foreign ministry spokesman Agnes Von der Muhll said.
Turkey, which stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin last month, has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij, where U.S. troops are stationed.
Expanding Turkey’s military campaign into the much larger Kurdish-held territory further east, which President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to do, would risk confrontation between NATO allies, who have been at loggerheads over the U.S. policy in Syria and other issues.
Celik said he had told Le Drian that trying to put the YPG/PYD under a new banner or uniforms would not change the problem and that Turkey wanted the groups cleared from Manbij.
“We want these terrorist organizations removed from proximity to our borders. That is our priority and if their presence continues then we will intervene,” he said.
“Our allies who tell us not to intervene in Manbij must do what is necessary so that these terrorist organizations leave,” he said. Celik also said he had asked France and the European Union to help build homes in areas taken by Turkish troops to allow some refugees to return from Turkey.