British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the U.K. will stand by Turkey in its fight against terrorism.
Addressing a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the annual ambassadors’ conference in capital
Ankara on Thursday, Hammond described Turkey as a close and valued partner of the U.K.
"Counterterrorism coalition is vitally important to the security of both countries and to the security of wider region," Hammond said, adding that Turkey was on the front line of the fight against terrorism.
Hammond’s visit to Ankara comes three days after a suspected Daesh suicide bomber killed 10 people, mostly German tourists, and wounded 15 others in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district Tuesday.
About the "shocking terrorist attack", Hammond said: "I reiterated to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu today the U.K. will continue to stand should to shoulder with Turkey and other allies in the struggle against terrorism, wherever it comes from.
"I think Tuesday's attack has only reinforced the vital importance of us working together through this strong United Kingdom-Turkish relationship to combat terrorism and build a close partnership to counter Daesh activities."
The foreign secretary said Turkey and the U.K. had been working together to prevent foreign fighters from traveling to Syria , adding that both sides would continue their "excellent" cooperation between police and security forces.
About the future of Bashar al-Assad regime, Hammond said: "The U.K. has been very clear about its position that Assad has to go in order to allow a sustainable transition government to take office in Syria."
About the issue of hosting refugees, he said: "Literally nobody is doing more, other than Turkey to alleviate the humanitarian consequences of this civil war, and Turkey and Turkish people deserve credit for the generous way in which they extended a hand of friendship to those who are displaced."
Turkey has taken in around 2.5 million Syrian refugees since the civil war broke out across its southern border in 2011. The country has also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Hammond said that although the U.K. was not a part of EU’s Schengen agreement, the bloc will contribute its full share of the €3 billion package offered to Turkey to help refugees.
He also hailed Turkey's "crucial role" in supporting communities in Syria.
Turkey's EU membership process
About Turkey's EU accession process, Hammond said: "The U.K. has always been the strongest supporter of Turkey's membership.
"We will continue to support Turkey's EU trajectory and we firmly believe that achieving the reforms that U.K. is proposing will make EU a better and stronger partner for Turkey. The EU needs strong relationship with Turkey. Turkey needs a strong relationship with the EU," he added.
Turkey, which applied for membership in 1987, must comply with 35 policy areas, or "chapters", in order to join the EU. Recently, it was announced that the 15th such chapter will be opened for discussion soon.
About the Cyprus issue, Hammond said the U.K. was a "strong supporter" of the Cyprus settlement.
Hammond added: "We are willing to do whatever we need to do to facilitate a settlement."
Cavusoglu said: "We know that [they] need our support, meaning the support of guarantor countries, especially the U.K., Greece, and
Turkey’s support. Turkey keeps giving the strongest support all the time. But this time we want to see results. It is needed to reach a result."
The Mediterranean island has been divided since Turkey’s 1974 military intervention. Cyprus and its decades-old unsolved division is close to a solution “within months,” said Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci in December last year.
Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkir has said that an anticipated referendum on Cypriot reunification would likely be held in the first half of 2016.
Freezing of bank accounts
About the freezing of bank accounts of Turkish diplomats following a British court decision to implement a ruling made in Cyprus, Hammond said: "The courts in the U.K. are completely independent of the government.
"On this occasion, we have sought to intervene in this case to ensure that the court recognizes that some of the accounts that have been frozen are accounts operated by the Turkish embassy in London. So yes, we are taking action to try to resolve the situation, which is regrettable."
Cavusoglu said: “Of course we too believe in the independence of courts and the governments shouldn’t [get] involved. But there are international agreements that we are a part of and these agreements are above internal law and the courts should comply with them."