Istanbul: Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has warned there can be no solution to the Syrian conflict or the threat from jihadists while President Bashar al-Assad remains in charge.
In recent days, Yildirim has repeatedly said Turkey would seek good relations with Syria after diplomatic successes with Israel and Russia, raising speculation of a possible change in Turkish policy.
However in an interview with the BBC broadcast late on Wednesday, Yildirim said Assad had to go because with him in charge, the conflict would not be solved.
“On one hand, there’s Assad and on the other, Daesh. If you ask, should we prefer Assad or Daesh, we cannot choose one over the other. They both have to go — they’re both trouble for Syrians,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the so-called Islamic State group.
“Let’s imagine we got rid of Daesh, the problem still won’t be solved. As long as Assad is there, the problem won’t be solved. Another terrorist organisation would emerge.”
He accused the Assad regime of creating IS through its policy of killing its own citizens deliberately.
There has been confusion this week over whether Turkish policy towards Syria and Assad was changing after several terror attacks by IS in Istanbul and in the capital Ankara in October.
Despite previously having good relations before the start of Syria’s five-year civil war, Turkey has been one of the Syrian regime’s fiercest opponents, supporting opposition groups fighting against Assad.
On Wednesday, Yildirim told his party’s provincial leaders in Ankara that he was sure Turkey would “normalise” relations with Syria and in the BBC interview, Yildirim said Assad had to change without specifying what kind of change.
“Things must change in Syria but first Assad must change. Unless Assad changes, nothing changes.”
The Syrian conflict has left more than 280,000 people dead, although Yildirim said half a million had been killed.
Millions more have been forced to flee their homes inside and outside the country.