Turkey denies being soft on Islamic extremists

In Washington, Turkish FM confirms with US Defense Dept. that two US Patriot missile batteries will remain in the country

Turkish commandos stand near the Turkish-Syrian border in Akcakale, Turkey, October 2012 (photo credit: AP)
Turkish commandos stand near the Turkish-Syrian border in Akcakale, Turkey, October 2012 (photo credit: AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Turkey’s top diplomat pushed back on Monday against allegations that his nation has not cracked down hard enough on extremists crossing its border to fight in Syria’s civil war.

Turkey, which shares a 566-mile border with Syria, is a major hub for rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Turkey has been accused of harboring rebels associated with al-Qaeda who operate across the border in Syria, but Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country had no tolerance for extremists and likened the situation to problems on the US border with Mexico.

“In no way Turkey tolerates or will be tolerating any extremist groups crossing Turkish borders,” Davutoglu told reporters at a briefing at the Turkish Embassy.

He said such reports were exaggerated. If Turkey closes its borders, it will be criticized for blocking humanitarian aid flowing into Syria and keeping refugees out, he said.

He said Western countries that are asking Turkey to do more to prevent extremists from crossing from Turkey into Syria must stop them from arriving in Turkey in the first place.

“There are 4 million tourists coming to Turkey. How can we check each of these tourists? We cannot act against human rights,” he said. “If those countries know who they are, they should stop them or they should give us a list.”

Turkey and the US are allies, but recently have had differences over how to resolve the bloody civil war in Syria and other issues.

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry said he and his Turkish counterpart discussed ways that both countries can tackle the rise of extremism in the region.

“The United States is working extremely closely on a daily basis with their officials and ours,” Kerry said. “We have consistent sharing of intelligence. We work on strategy. We are both involved on the challenges of the borders with respect to humanitarian assistance.”

During his visit with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Davutoglu discussed the US decision to continue to provide two Patriot missile batteries in Turkey for another year as part of that country’s air defenses while the civil war rages on in Syria. Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog confirmed that the Patriot missiles will remain. They are under NATO command, and Turkey requested they stay for another year.

Davutoglu also discussed with US officials his nation’s recently announced plan to begin talks with the China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp. on the purchase of a long-range missile system. The $3.44 billion deal surprised many and strained relations between Turkey and its NATO allies. Davutoglu told reporters the decision was not final.

“It’s a competition. If there is a new proposal satisfying our needs by an American company or a European company, we will make this deal with them,” he said.

Then he added: “But this started in 2009. For four years, nobody raised any concern. Nobody said this is not good for NATO.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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