Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed he would wash his hands of Joe Biden if reports that the US vice president blamed Turkey in part for the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) were true.
On Thursday, Biden said his “old friend” Erdogan had admitted to making a mistake in allowing foreign fighters to cross the Turkish border into Syria.
“You were right. We let too many people through.’ Now they’re trying to seal their border,” Biden quoted Erdogan as saying.
In comments to reporters in Istanbul after morning prayers for Eid al-Adha – Feast of the Sacrifice – in Istanbul on Saturday, Erdogan aggressively refuted Biden’s remarks.
“If Biden told these words, then he will be history to me. I never uttered such remarks,” Turkish daily Hurriyet cites Erdogan as saying.
Speaking back on his time as prime minister, Erdogan said his government had not provided “even the smallest amount of support” to the IS or any other terrorist organization.
“Nobody can prove it. Foreign fighters never crossed from Turkey to Syria. There were people coming to Turkey as tourists and went to Syria, but nobody can suggest that they were armed while crossing the border,” Erdoğan said.
“I view [Biden’s remarks] with regret. I never admitted any mistake, nor did we tell them that they ‘were right’ during my visit to the US. If Mr. Biden uttered these remarks at Harvard, he should apologize. I’m saying this clearly. And we won’t accept slender, indirect explanations,” Erdogan said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu added it was “impossible” to accept Biden’s remarks, adding that it is Turkey which has borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis.
“All the US authorities and Biden very well know that Turkey, on its own, has hosted millions of refugees for four years,” Hurriyet cites the Turkish PM as saying.
“If all the warnings that Turkey made had been taken into consideration, [the IS] would not be an issue today.”
Meanwhile, Erdogan warned that Turkey “would not hesitate” to retaliate against IS militants if they launched attacks against Turkish troops stationed at the Tomb of Suelyman, a Turkish enclave inside of Syria.
“Forty of our soldiers are stationed in this zone, which is Turkish territory,” AFP cites Erdogan as saying on Saturday.
“If one so much as touches a hair on their heads, Turkey with its army will do all that is necessary and everything will change from that moment on,” he added.
His warning came just two days after Turkey’s top general promised troops at the site that help would be on the way “the moment we hear a single word from you.”
The Tomb of Suleyman Shah has been considered sovereign Turkish territory since the 1921 Treaty of Ankara signed between Turkey and France. Recent reports suggest that IS has controlled the territory surrounding the enclave for months.
On Friday, the Turkish military received the green light from the country’s parliament to engage IS militants in Syria and Iraq.
The previous day, lawmakers had gave the go-ahead for foreign forces to operate on Turkish soil if conducting missions against the IS.
“The rising influence of radical groups in Syria threatens Turkey’s national security…The aim of this mandate is to minimize as much as possible the impact of the clashes on our borders,” Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told parliament.