Turkey, Saudi warn Russia over 'Syria mistake'
October 15 2015 07:08 PM
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Turkey's Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu listens to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during their joint press conference in Ankara on Thursday.

AFP/Ankara

Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Thursday warned Russia over the consequences of its intervention in Syria, with Ankara telling Moscow its bombing campaign in support of the regime was a "big mistake".

Both countries support the moderate opposition in Syria and have been infuriated by Moscow's bombing campaign to prop the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey's anger grew earlier this month when Russian aircraft operating in Syria twice violated the air space of the key Nato member.

"Russia is making a big mistake," Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu told reporters after talks in Ankara with Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir.

"What it does will bring no meaning or benefit, other than delaying the transition process to help Syria out of the chaos," he added.

"We will continue with our warnings."

The Turkish army meanwhile said a Russian military delegation led by air force Lieutenant General Sergei Dronov arrived in Ankara on Thursday to share flight data "to prevent a repeat of incursions."

Ankara is also particularly concerned over claims - denied by Moscow - that its bombing campaign has targeted anti-Assad rebels rather than the stated aim of Islamic State jihadists.

"Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in agreement on supporting the opposition in Syria. What is important is a political solution," Jubeir said.

"We are in agreement that there will certainly be no role for Bashar al-Assad," he added.

He said that in recent talks with top Russian officials, Riyadh had told Moscow that the Syria crisis should be solved according to the 2012 Geneva communique which envisages a political transition in Syria.

"We (in Ankara) discussed the intervention of foreign powers, especially the Russian intervention which is a very critical issue," Jubeir said.

Their united opposition to the Russian bombing campaign has intensified a rapprochement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that has gained pace over the last months.

Riyadh and Ankara fell out badly over Saudi's support of the toppling by the Egyptian army of president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 who Turkey has strongly supported.

But in a sign of warming ties, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly defended Saudi Arabia against vehement criticism from within the Islamic world over the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims at a stampede during the Haj pilgrimage.

'Come to senses'

Turkey has grown increasingly concerned over US and even Russian backing for Syrian Kurds who Ankara accuses of being allies of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey summoned the Russian and US envoys this week to warn against supporting militarily the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), which Ankara accuses of being the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed PKK.

PYD leader Salih Muslim has reportedly said Syrian Kurds would not attack Turkey but would defend themselves in case of any Turkish assault.

"I am inviting Salih Muslim to come to his senses," Sinirlioglu said.

"It would not be good for him if he forgets about Turkey's will and determination," he added.

"We have sent a clear message to the PYD. Any action against Turkey will be punished without any hesitation."

Moscow's attitude to the PYD has worried Ankara, with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov meeting Muslim in Paris on October 8. But Moscow has vehemently denied supplying arms to the Syrian Kurds.

After the air space violations, Erdogan had warned Moscow against losing Turkey's friendship.

Bogdanov, quoted by Interfax news agency, said Moscow hoped to hold talks with Turkish diplomats in the next days to "find where our approaches merge."

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