ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that a “no-fly zone” should be created in Syria to protect part of it from attacks by Syria’s air force.
In his comments to reporters on his return from the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Erdogan did not specify where such a zone should be located.
But Turkey is eager to re-focus the world’s attention on removing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime from power as well as fighting the Islamic State militants who are battling Kurdish forces just over the border in Syria, triggering a refugee influx into Turkey.
“A no-fly zone must be declared and this no fly-zone must be secured,” Erdogan said, adding that he had discussed the issue with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
In addition, Erdogan said a “secure area” should be created on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, where tens of thousands of Syrians have fled the fighting as refugees. Turkey could probably protect such an area with its artillery.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey did not rule out the possibility of enforcing a buffer zone for Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, but they would not discuss the potential of supporting a no-fly zone over Syria.
Still, both officials made clear at a Pentagon news conference that the U.S. was not actively considering enforcing either.
Hagel also was pressed on why the U.S. has not launched airstrikes or otherwise given military help to Syrian Kurds in the town of Kobani, which is under siege by Islamic State militants, in the same way that American forces attacked extremists who threatened Iraqi Yazidis and Kurds last month.
Hagel said U.S. officials are keenly aware of the situation in Kobani, which sits on the Syrian border with Turkey.
“We are discussing how and what we can do with our coalition partners to help them deal with it,” Hagel said. “We’re talking to Turkey about this and all of the different aspects of the ISIL threat.”
ISIL as an acronym that some use for the Islamic State group,
Regarding Erdogan’s “secure area” proposal, Dempsey said: “A buffer zone might at some point become a possibility, but that’s not part of our campaign plan presently.”
Hagel noted that both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke this week with Erdogan over how Ankara might contribute to the global coalition to counter the Islamic State group. He said Turkey’s desire for a buffer zone “is not a new issue.”
“We discuss all these possibilities and we’ll continue to talk about what Turks believe they require,” Hagel said. “They know clearly that ISIL and what’s happening in Syria and Iraq is a clear and present threat, danger, to them.”
Erdogan said Friday that Turkey is considering how to support the U.S.-led coalition. In New York, Erdogan had told Turkish reporters that Turkey’s involvement could include its military.
Previously Turkey had been coy about whether it would contribute to the coalition, citing the safety of 49 people who had been kidnapped by the militants from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, in June. But the hostages were freed last weekend, prompting the U.S. to press Turkey to contribute to the coalition.
“Our 49 citizens were hostages. But now the conditions have changed. The process as of now will be different,” Erdogan said Friday, without elaborating.
He said the Islamic militants were casting a shadow over Islam.
“As Muslims, we have to do all that we can,” Erdogan said.
Lara Jakes in Washington contributed.
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