A spokesman for Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied that the Turkish president had called Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani a “martyr” on Sunday following a Russian media report that he had used the laudatory term.
Citing an unnamed Turkish official, Turkish state news network TRT World reported that Erdogan had offered his condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and urged him to avoid an escalation with the US following the airstrike that killed the top commander, but “did not use ‘martyr’ to describe him.”
Turkish Media reported that Turkey, a NATO member and official US ally, had been working to defuse tensions between Tehran and Washington. Tensions have risen between Turkey and the US in recent months over the former’s 2018 incursion into norther Syria.
Ankara’s denial came after the Arabic-language service of Russian state media outlet RT reported on a condolence call between Erdogan and Rouhani.
Erdogan: I feel sorrow for loss of martyr Qassem Soleimani, understand anger of Iran's people, Khamenei, president. I saw his funeral processions in Iraq, demonstrating his popularity there. Foreign intervention destabilizes region, we mustn't allow it https://t.co/pRosfJGUPM https://t.co/y5znJC3uRB
— David A. Daoud (@DavidADaoud) January 4, 2020
“I feel sorry for the loss of the martyr Qassem Soleimani, and I understand the anger of the people of Iran,” RT quoted Erdogan as saying.
He reportedly added that there was a need “not to allow external interference in a way that does not endanger peace and stability in the region” and that killing Soleimani was “a grave mistake.”
Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s Quds Force, was killed in an airstrike at Baghdad International Airport on Sunday.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement explaining the strike. “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
The US-led coalition on Sunday announced it was “pausing” its fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq, where US troops training local forces have faced a spate of retaliatory rocket attacks. On Saturday, the coalition said its forces in Baghdad and in an airfield north of the capital had faced new attacks, bringing the total rocket strikes in the last two months to 13.
Iraq’s parliament on Sunday voted to oust thousands of US troops from military bases in the country in the wake of the strike.