Presidential spokesman says Turkey not considering severing ties with NATO

Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Monday an incident during a recent NATO drill where the names of the Turkish Republic’s founder and current president were used in an “enemy chart” should be investigated carefully.

Speaking to France 24, Kalin shed some light on Turkey’s relations with NATO and the U.S. which became strained following NATO’s military exercise and a lack of information on the whereabouts and condition of Iranian-Turkish businessman Riza Sarraf respectively.

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Referring to the drill incident in Norway which led Turkey to withdraw its troops, Kalin said Turkey’s participation in NATO dates back more than 50 years, adding, “this is one incident, but of course we are a strong ally in NATO and we participated in many exercises.”

Turkey withdrew its troops from NATO's Trident Javelin exercise in Norway on Friday after a civilian Norwegian official depicted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an "enemy collaborator".

A portrait of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was also shown in the "hostile leader list" during a computer-assisted exercise of the drill.

“Obviously, it is completely unacceptable to do this to any country, especially for our founding president Ataturk and our current president, and expect Turkey not to react to it. That’s not possible,” Kalin said.

"Of course, this incident has to be studied, investigated very, very carefully -- who did it, who put those pictures in there, etcetera."

He added that Turkey has received an apology, which is fine, but one has to explain how within a system like NATO -- a military alliance with such a strict disciplined system -- such a thing can happen.

Responding to a question on whether it was an accident or not, Kalin said: "Well I don’t know the details. We will see. We’ve relied on NATO’s explanations so far, and I think there will be an investigation, and we heard a couple of people have been fired. But we seek to know how such a thing can happen within NATO so such thing won’t happen again."

Kalin also said Turkey is not considering severing ties with NATO.

Turkey-US relations

On Turkey-U.S. relations which have been strained recently, Kalin underscored two main points which remain unsolved: U.S. support of the PKK/PYD in Syria and extradition of the leader of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which was behind the deadly coup attempt on July 15 last year.

He accused FETO of “using the U.S. system to launch an attack against Turkey through the Zarrab (Sarraf) case or Halkbank case, which is one of the public banks in Turkey”.

“Now, we have never asked for something that is outside the legal framework. We asked for his [FETO leader Fetullah Gulen’s] extradition to Turkey based on a treaty of extradition of criminals that the U.S. signed in the 1960s,” he said.

He stated that the U.S. did not provide any convincing explanations as well.

“We are asking for their extradition so they can be tried in Turkey,” he said.

He said this attitude apparently is “having a negative impact on our bilateral relationship too...Because if you allow such a group of people in your country functioning against a key ally, how are we supposed to respond to that?”

He reiterated there were not any ties between president Erdogan and Sarraf or related cases, calling it a “political case” which is damaging the reputation of the president.

“This whole thing is a very politically motivated case. We are depending on energy from outside. We had to do trade with Iran during the sanctions. We said we will have to try some other means to do it. Our banks were involved, our economy ministry was involved… Americans know all of this.”

Sarraf has been in jail in the U.S. pending trial. He was arrested last year on alleged fraud and Iran sanctions-related charges.

PKK/PYD relations with US

Referring to the PKK/PYD’s deal with Daesh which allowed Daesh fighters and their families to flee Raqqa, Syria, Kalin said it is a “terrible deal” and shows the fallacy of supporting one terrorist group against another.

He said Turkey now is “expecting the U.S. to disengage from the PKK/PYD because the mission has been accomplished. And we will see how they [the U.S.] devises their plans now”.

“Now the question is this: they have said all along that the [PKK/PYD] is the most effective force against Daesh. Well, it is actually the other way around,” he added.

He said if the U.S. provided that kind of support to any other group such as the Free Syrian Army or Turkmen or another Arab group, they would have been the most effective group against Daesh.

The PYD and its military wing YPG are Syrian branches of the PKK, which has waged war against Turkey for more than 30 years.

Since the PKK launched its terror campaign in Turkey in 1984, tens of thousands of people have been killed, including more than 1,200 since July 2015 alone.

The U.S. and the coalition have largely ignored the PYD/YPG links to the PKK, which the U.S., EU, and Turkey list as a terrorist group.