ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will fight against Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday .
The advance of Islamic State insurgents to within sight of the Turkish army on the Syrian border has piled pressure on Ankara to play a greater role in the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
“We will fight effectively against both (Islamic State) and all other terrorist organisations within the region; this will always be our priority,” Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of parliament.
“We will (also) continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all (of its) citizens.”
Turkey shares a 1,200 km (750-mile) border with Iraq and Syria and is already struggling with 1.5 million refugees from the Syrian war alone.
It deployed tanks and armoured vehicles on the border with Syria this week as fighting intensified and the government has sent a proposal to parliament which would extend its powers to authorise cross-border military incursions.
But it fears that U.S.-led air strikes, if not accompanied by a broader political strategy, could strengthen Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.
“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger,” Erdogan said, adding that the safe return of Syrian refugees in Turkey was also a priority.
“We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.”
Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Jeremy Gaunt