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Khamenei warns Erdogan against Syria offensive, as Turkish leader set to meet Putin

Ankara has weighed launching a campaign in northern Syria to create a ‘safe zone’ that would drive Kurdish militants back; Iran says ‘attack in Syria will also benefit terrorists’

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi sits at right, unseen, in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi sits at right, unseen, in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday told visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that any offensive by Ankara in northern Syria would be “detrimental” to the region.

His statement came shortly before Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi hosts his Russian and Turkish counterparts for talks on the Syrian conflict.

Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a military offensive in northern Syria to create a “safe zone” that would drive Kurdish militants 30 kilometers (19 miles) back from the Turkish border.

On Tuesday, Khamenei told him that “this is definitely detrimental to Syria, Turkey and the region and will not fulfill the political action expected by the Syrian government.”

“Terrorism must be opposed, but a military attack in Syria will also benefit terrorists,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website.

The Iranian leader called for the issue to be resolved through dialogue between Ankara, Damascus, Moscow and Tehran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan listens to his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi during their joint press briefing at the Saadabad Palace, in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Khamenei, who has the final say in major state policies, also told Erdogan that Iran would offer cooperation “in the fight against terrorism.”

Erdogan arrived in Tehran on Monday night, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to land in the Iranian capital later for Tuesday’s trilateral meeting.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have in recent years met to discuss Syria as part of the “Astana peace process” to end more than 11 years of conflict in the Arab country.

All three are involved in Syria, with Russia and Iran supporting the Damascus regime against its opponents, and Turkey backing rebels.

Turkey has launched waves of attacks on Syria since 2016, targeting Kurdish militias as well as Islamic State group jihadists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad shake hands at the start of their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, May 8, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Erdogan’s planned military offensive would target Kurdish fighters regarded by Ankara as “terrorists.”

They include the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which formed a crucial part of an international coalition against IS jihadists in Syria.

A fighter from the US-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council looks through binoculars towards Turkish-backed fighters’ positions, at the front line at the village of Halawanji, north of Manbij town, Syria, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Ankara fears a strong Kurdish presence along its border with Syria will embolden the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which for decades has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Syria’s government has repeatedly condemned Turkish threats to mount a new incursion.

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