A war of words between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron has taken another nasty turn after Ankara fired a salvo on Friday.
Erdogan called Macron “brain-dead”, a metaphor which the French president had used to describe the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) earlier this month.
“What the French president says… ‘The brain death of NATO has been experienced. [Look] Mr. Macron! I am calling out to you from Turkey, I will also say it at the NATO [summit]. First of all, have your own brain death checked out!” Erdogan lashed out.
The French now want to summon the Turkish envoy in Paris for an explanation.
Speaking during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Complex at Istanbul’s Marmara University said the Turkish president said such statements were suitable only to those like Macron who were in a state of brain death.
Macron told the Economist on November 7 that NATO was suffering “brain death”, referring to a lack of strategic coordination among allies, the Europeans on the one hand and the United States (US) and Turkey on the other.
The French president mainly criticized US President Donald Trump for his indifference to the alliance and the bloc for its inability to react to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” unilateral incursion into northern Syria.
On Thursday, Macron said his earlier remarks on the NATO had been a “useful wake-up call”. He added that he would not apologize for saying them regardless of strong reaction from European neighbors who say his comments were undermining the US-led NATO which is still needed for Europe’s defense.
Macron said this in Paris after he talked to the NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg who said strong multilateral institutions, like the NATO, are needed in uncertain times.
The NATO chief also praised France’s importance in fighting against the extremist Islamic terrorism in the Sahel region in Mali, West Africa. While engaging with insurgents this week, two French helicopters collided causing the death of 13 French soldiers.
In contrary to Stoltenberg, Erdogan underestimated France’s role at the NATO, while calling Turkey “NATO’s most important member.”
“Are those [Western world] unaware [of the fact] that terrorists all over the world would have fled into Europe if Turkey’s [efforts] had not been available?” Erdogan asked.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened the European Union (EU) with opening his country’s borders, allowing a flood of refugees into Europe, if Turkey does not receive adequate international support for setting up a “safe zone” in northern Syria where it plans to resettle one million refugees.
The US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which bore the brunt of the fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) was attacked on October 9 by Turkey, which proceeded to invade north-eastern Syria to clear the area off the Kurds and to set up the zone.
The Western world, including NATO fear the Turkish incursion into the region will undermine the battle against ISIS as the YPG was controlling prisons holding the extremist fighters. Many were reported to have escaped from the prisons during the clashes.
Early in November, Erdogan said there were 1,201 people held in Turkish custody on suspicion of links to the ISIS, 287 of whom were captured during the latest operation.
Turkey later started repatriating detained suspected ISIS fighters and vowed to return more of them, most of whom are from European nations.
Prior to the NATO’s 70th-anniversary summit in London on December 3-4, Turkey declared it will not support a defense plan of the NATO for the Baltic States and Poland unless it gets political support from the bloc for its fight against the YPG.
Ankara demands the NATO formally recognize the YPG as a terrorist organization.
“We have the right to enter into Syria in terms of fighting against terrorism [in the border area]. You, Macron! What is your business in Syria? Jump up and down as much as you like… You will respect Turkey’s right to fighting against terrorism sooner or later. There is no other way,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan also declared that Macron has no authority to decide whether Turkey should be in NATO or not.
“[Macron!] Nobody listens to you. You are still a novice. You should first complete your noviciate. Believe me, Macron does not know what the fight against terror is. That is why the Yellow Jackets invaded France,” Erdogan said, referring to the French protest movement of the past year.
The Turkish president went on to say that the French president only knew how to show off but he could not even properly pay for the NATO.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the bloc members for not funding enough on defense matters.
The French leader, however, reacted to Trump’s remarks.
“If some people want to see an example of what they term ‘cost-sharing’, they can come Monday to the ceremony France is organizing. There they will see the cost.”
Macron was referring to the 13 soldiers killed in Mali.
On Friday, French officials announced that they were expecting substantial clarifications from Erdogan rather than his “insults” targeting Macron.
An Elysee official said the French government would summon the Turkish envoy in Paris to explain matters.
“Let us be clear, these [Erdogan’s remarks] are not a statement, these are insults. The president [Macron] says things clearly. It is up to Turkey to provide the answers that we and many allies expect,” the unnamed French diplomat said, adding that France had “no comment to make on these insults.”
Beyond Turkey’s offensive in Syria, its refusal to support the NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland was unacceptable, according to the French diplomat.
“Turkey cannot take the defense plans of Poland and the Baltic countries hostage,” he added.
Macron was known for his leading role in efforts to maintain a dialogue between Erdogan’s Turkey and the EU.
In 2017, the French president told the French weekly magazine Le Point that being president of France was “not that cool” as he was the one who had to talk to Erdogan every 10 days in a bid to keep the EU contact continue with Turkey.