Turkey aims for dialogue with Taliban on Kabul Airport plan

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president said Tuesday his country will talk with the Taliban regarding Turkey’s bid to operate and secure the airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Speaking after Eid al-Adha prayers in northern Cyprus, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that the hardline Islamist group had some “discomforts” over Turkey’s proposed plans for Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“This process will also be discussed with the Taliban,” he said, adding that the group had previously negotiated with the United States and “should hold these talks much more comfortably with Turkey.”

Erdogan’s comments follow Taliban warnings last week that Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, along with other foreign forces.

Turkey has been negotiating with the U.S. its proposal to operate and secure the airport. Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would do so only if certain conditions are met. “First, America will stand with us at the point of diplomacy and diplomatic relations,” he said. The other conditions are logistical and financial support.

An agreement on the protection of the airport has become increasingly urgent as the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and 76,000 allied NATO soldiers nears a conclusion.

NATO-member Turkey has over 500 troops in Afghanistan and already plays a significant role at the airport.

Turkish-American relations have been rocky for the past few years over a host of problems, including Turkey’s human rights issues, Ankara’s purchase of a Russian-made missile system, Washington’s support of a Syrian Kurdish group Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued U.S. residency of a Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a bloody failed coup.

Erdogan was speaking during a two-day visit to Cyprus’ breakaway north for celebrations to mark the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion that split the island along ethnic lines.