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EU membership: Turkey urges bloc to keep its promises

Turkey’s membership to the EU should not be sacrificed for domestic interests of some European countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, ahead of his two-day visit to the Vatican.

In an exclusive interview with the Italian daily La Stampa on Sunday, Erdogan flagged a number of issues ranging from Turkey’s EU accession, Jerusalem, Turkey-Italy relations and the ongoing operation in Syria's Afrin region.

“What we expect from the EU is to dismiss the artificial obstacles in front of us and to show a constructive attitude,” the president told the daily.

The two-page interview was published under the headline “EU, include us”. The daily commented on the visit saying Erdogan knocking on the Europe’s door as well as fighting enemies including the PYD/PKK in Afrin.

“Turkey meets its obligations as a candidate country but the process of accession is not a process we can accelerate on our own. The EU should fulfil what is needed. First of all, the promises should be kept,” he said.

He blamed the EU for playing “unfair” and said it was stonewalling Turkey in negotiations.

“It is not fair that some EU countries come up with different alternatives,” he said, referring to a proposal aiming to grant Turkey a special status in the EU instead of full membership.

"Turkey desires full membership to the EU. Options other than this one are far away from satisfying us,” the Turkish president said.

Speaking about the Jerusalem issue, which is expected to top the Vatican meeting, Erdogan said he appreciated Pope Francis's views on Jerusalem.

“Pope Francis conveyed the right message to the Christian world because Jerusalem is not the only issue of Muslims. We both advocate the status of Jerusalem and will have to protect it,” he noted.


Unilateral step

The president said no nation has the right to take a unilateral step against international law regarding the issue.

On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, drawing widespread international condemnation.

Later the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution, co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, rejecting Trump’s decision.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem -- occupied by Israel since 1967 -- might eventually serve as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Erdogan went on to say the status of the city should be preserved in line with UN resolutions. “Only this can assure that Muslims, Christians and Jews can live in harmony [...].”

He called on the international community to take responsibility in ensuring peace in Jerusalem.

The president said the protection of Jerusalem's status, securing sacred sites of three religions and the recognition of Palestinian people’s rights were of “high importance”.

Speaking about Turkish military's operation in Afrin, Erdogan said the PYD/PKK terrorist organization previously had an agreement with Daesh and let numerous Daesh terrorists to be evacuated from Raqqah.

"Now we see that PYD/YPG has included Daesh members to their ranks," he said.

The president said Turkish Armed Forces did not enter Syria's Afrin to fight with Kurds.

"We do not have a problem with Syrian Kurds and we will never have. Turkey's struggle is not against Kurds, it is against armed terrorist organizations," he stressed.


Right of self-defense

Erdogan said Turkey had self-defense rights based on international law against terror attacks and the aim of Operation Olive Branch was to ensure Turkey's border security.

He said since the operation started, four Turkish citizens have been martyred and 90 others injured in the border provinces of Hatay and Kilis as a result of cross-border rocket attacks from Afrin.

Erdogan said the PYD/PKK uses civilians as human shields in many areas.

He stressed the importance of Syria's territorial integrity and said: "I say this clearly: We do not have an eye on anyone's land."

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

Erdogan noted that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was his close friend and the two countries had a “very good” cooperation when the latter was in office.

"I can tell that the period he was in office, the relations between our countries were pretty [...] positive. We should find that mood again. We should develop our bilateral relations with Italy," he said.

Erdogan said he will meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni during his visit. "I will also meet businessmen. I hope it will be profitable. Italy is our third biggest trade partner.”

The president noted there were 1,400 Italian companies doing business in Turkey and expressed hope that the number would increase.

The Turkish president is to pay a two day visit to the Vatican and Rome on Sunday and Monday.