Four European leaders hold testy meeting on Syria prior to NATO summit

The leaders of Turkey, France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK) agreed that humanitarian access, including cross-border, must be ensured and that a UN needs assessment should form the basis for getting aid to those who require it in the North-East on the Syrian issue.

The leaders gathered in London to discuss issues on Syria and counter-terrorism on the sidelines of the 70th-anniversary summit the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu (AA) reported on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in the quadrilateral meeting which lasted nearly 50 minutes.

“On Syria, the leaders agreed that humanitarian access, including cross-border, must be ensured and that a UN needs assessment should form the basis for getting aid to those who require it in the North-East,” the spokesperson of the Prime Ministerial Residence said in a statement.

The four reportedly said they would create conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees and that the fight must be continued against all kinds of terrorism.

On October 9, Turkey attacked the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which bore the brunt of the fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS), invading north-eastern Syria to clear the area off the Kurds and setting up a “safe zone” where it plans to resettle one million refugees.

The Western countries and NATO fear the Turkish incursion into the region will undermine the battle against ISIS.

Prior to the summit in London on Wednesday and Thursday, Turkey announced that it will not support a NATO defense plan for the Baltic States and Poland. With the move, Erdogan aims at getting political support from the alliance for its fight against the YPG and making the NATO formally recognize the YPG as a terrorist organization.

The leaders said in the press release they agreed on the necessity for all attacks against civilians in Syria, including those in Idlib, to be stopped.

War crimes, allegedly committed by groups under Turkish control, had been voiced by some Western countries and human rights organizations during Turkey’s offensive in Syria.

The quadrilateral meeting was convened by Johnson in Downing Street as a testy affair to forge a common European-Turkish approach to the crisis in Syria.

Macron told the Economist last month that NATO was suffering “brain death”, referring to a lack of strategic coordination among allies over the Turkish offensive, triggering a war of words with Erdogan.

The Turkish president called out to his French counterpart that he should first check out his own brain death, accusing him of having a “sick and shallow” understanding of the situation.

The French authorities deemed Erdogan’s remarks as “insults” targeting Macron and summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris for an explanation.

Beyond Turkey’s offensive in Syria, its refusal to support the NATO defense plan for the Baltics has been deemed unacceptable by many bloc members.

“Turkey cannot take the defense plans of Poland and the Baltic countries hostage,” a French diplomat said last week.

Following the summit between the four, Merkel was reported saying “it was a productive and useful” meeting, with Erdogan saying it was a “good” meeting.

NATO says Turkey blocking a plan to get concessions in its Syria policy

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