NEW YORK — The Syrian government was behind the attack on a U.N. aid convoy that shattered a fragile cease-fire earlier this week, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told MSNBC.
“The killer responsible for that attack is [President Bashar] al-Assad's regime itself,” Erdogan said in an interview with MSNBC's Ayman Mohyeldin while in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
Erdogan also branded the truce brokered by Russia and the U.S. “a stillborn baby” — but expressed hope that talks between the U.S., Russia and Turkey could breathe new life into the cease-fire.
The tattered cease-fire deal announced Sept. 9 hung over the UNGA throughout the week, as accusations swirled around who was responsible for Monday’s deadly airstrike on the aid convoy.
The U.S. has blamed Russia for the attack, although it has also said jets belonging to both Russia and Syria were in the airspace at the time. Russia has denied involvement, and Assad has called the American allegations “just lies.”
Erdogan enjoyed friendly relations with Assad until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Since then, Turkey has thrown its weight behind some of the forces trying to overthrow Assad, while also taking in nearly 2 million Syrians fleeing the violence.
In the interview with MSNBC, Erdogan also discussed areas of disagreement with the U.S. — particularly on the subject of America's Kurdish allies in northern Syria.
The U.S. relies on Syrian Kurds to take on ISIS, but Erdogan sees the fighters as an extension of the militant separatist PKK group, which has been battling the Turkish government since 1984.
American officials have warned Turkey to stop its attacks on Kurds and instead focus on ISIS.
“We don't seem to come to see eye-to-eye with our American friends on this issue,” Erdogan said. “There is no good terrorists or bad terrorists. All of the terrorists are bad,” he said, claiming that weapons provided by the U.S. to the Kurds are sometimes seized by ISIS.
When asked about the U.S. presidential race, Erdogan said Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants to the U.S. was not “remotely possible” but he declined to back a particular candidate.
“The best thing for me is to see the will of the people being served in the United States,” he said.
On the matter of his own country, though, Erdogan was more definitive.
Following a recent coup attempt, Erdogan's government has arrested thousands of people in a crackdown criticized by the international community. Warrants have been issued for the arrests of nearly 100 journalists, and over 100 media outlets shuttered, according to rights groups.
Erdogan called the tallies “imaginary figures.”
The Turkish president told MSNBC he does not think his response has gone too far.
“If journalists are provoking several terrorist organizations to topple the government and destroy the constitutional order in Turkey, could we just allow them to do that? No. Turkey is a state of law,” Erdogan said.
“You have to tolerate criticism, that's one thing. I will do that. I will tolerate criticism. But I will never-- never tolerate terrorism,” he added.