Obama says Turkey has a right to self-defense, urges deescalation

Speaking during a press conference with French President Francois Hollande at the White House, Obama said the incident on the Turkish-Syrian border is part of an “ongoing problem” with Russia’s airstrikes in Syria that is more focused on propping on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, two Turkish F-16 fighter jets allegedly issued 10 warnings to two Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace for 17 seconds and shot one of them down.

The US president said Turkey has a right to defend its territory and its airspace. He complained that Russia is operating very close to the Turkish border as it goes after moderate opposition groups. He added that the US is still trying to get details about what happened on the border and that he will have talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming days.

He noted that similar mistakes would be “less likely to occur” if Russia concentrated its airstrikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Obama underscored the importance of taking measures to “discourage any kind of escalation.”

“My top priority is going to be to ensure that this does not escalate. Hopefully this is a moment in which all parties can step back and make a determination of how their interests are best served,” the president said. He said it’s “very important” right now that Russia and Turkey are talking to each other to find out exactly what happened and take measures to discourage any kind of escalation.

NATO said allies stand in solidarity with Turkey, whose airspace was violated by the Russian warplanes — confirming Turkey’s account. Russia rejects claims that its jets violated Turkish airspace and characterized the incident as an “unfriendly act.”

Speaking about the incident, Hollande urged both Russia and Turkey to prevent an escalation. “That would be extremely damaging,” Hollande said. He said Turkey is briefing them about what happened in that area, urging Russia to focus its airstrikes on ISIL to avoid the risks.

Hollande said it is essential for all countries, including Russia and Turkey, to fully commit in fighting against ISIL.

On the refugee crisis, Hollande said it is directly linked to Europe and attached an important role to Turkey in this crisis. He said Europe needs to help Turkey in keeping the refugees close to their country of origin, but abandoning the millions of refugees fleeing bombs and the ISIL violence would betray what Europe stands for.

He said he agreed with President Obama to step up efforts to shut down the Turkish border to the flow of extremists.


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