TUNIS, Tunisia — Syria’s peace efforts cannot include President Bashar Assad, Turkey’s leader said Wednesday, calling him a “terrorist.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke during a visit to Tunisia at the end of a four-day Africa trip focusing on economic issues.
At a joint news conference with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Erdogan called Assad a “terrorist who engaged in state terrorism” and should not be part of Syria’s post-conflict future.
“How can we embrace a future with a Syrian leader who has killed close to a million of his citizens?” said the Turkish leader, whose country has seen a flood of refugees from neighboring Syria during the fighting.
Turning to another highly sensitive Middle East issue, Erdogan and Essebsi said their nations would never accept changes to Jerusalem’s historic status after President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
“Jerusalem is our red line. Any steps against Jerusalem’s historic status and holiness are unacceptable,” Erdogan said, adding that his country will work toward international recognition of the Palestinian state and seek the support of the European Union.
The Turkish leader also vowed to help support Tunisia overcome economic hardships and combat extremism. Erdogan, who also was attending a Turkish-Tunisian economic forum, was accompanied by a delegation of nine ministers and 200 businessmen.
Erdogan earlier visited Sudan and Chad, where he signed military and economic deals.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was paying a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met Wednesday with King Salman.
The two countries recently have been at odds over regional issues.
Following his accession to power in 2015, King Salman sought to improve relations with Turkey to form a so-called Sunni axis against rival Shiite-led Iran. However, the kingdom’s move in June to lead a four-nation boycott of Qatar and cut off ties with the Gulf state led to new tensions with Turkey, which has sided with Qatar.
The Turkish prime minister’s office said Yildirim and King Salman exchanged views on “regional challenges and problems.” They also emphasized the importance of Jerusalem’s status and the need for the Islamic world to act in unity to protect the rights of Palestinian “brothers.”
Yildirim was also expected to meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Tunis, Tunisia; Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.