(CNSNews.com) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a gathering in Washington on Monday that "six thousand foreign fighters have entered Turkey," even though "they have been banned." But, he added, "They are under control."
He also suggested that America's failure to listen to Turkey's warnings about the Maliki government contributed to the ISIS/ISIL advance; and he hinted that Turkey agreed to a prisoner swap to secure the release of its 49 hostages held by ISIS.
Erdogan, speaking through a translator at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "We check entry and exit points, but then you know, these people (foreign fighters) move, of course, from other parts of the border. We try to keep tabs on them. But our goal is to try and ensure that foreign fighters do not go through our borders. We're very determined to prevent them from doing so."
Erdogan said it helps if Turkey learns their names ahead of time from Western countries. In that case, "then they will not be able to go through Turkish territory. And we are very, very sensitive to this, and we are very determined to prevent those people from going through."
But in some cases, the foreign fighters are entering Turkey on tourist passports, he said, and they don't acquire weapons until they get to their ultimate destination, such as Syria.
Erdogan was insulted by the reporter's follow-up question. She asked him if Turkey was "prepared to do more than it has" to keep out foreign fighters.
"I am sorry, this question -- I find is an insult because, of course, we always try to do more than what we are doing, because -- and if we get names, lists, we make sure that they don't come through our borders, because we have suffered from terrorism a lot, too, in the past.
"So, we do not want to allow foreign fighters who would support terrorism. This is not our goal at all. We are fighting against them. And we will continue to fight against them."
Moderate opposition not supported
Erdogan also told the gathering that there is a moderate opposition in Syria -- "at the moment."
"This is our view, this is the U.S. view," he said. "But since the beginning, that moderate opposition was not really supported. It was just a few countries supporting that -- Turkey, Qatar, and from time to time, Saudi Arabia.
"The Free Syrian Army, these moderate groups, were not supported. And that's why things developed in the other direction. Now, is it possible to succeed? Well, failure is not an option."
Erdogan said ISIS/ISIL is now using weapons "that the United States gave to Iraq," despite Turkey's warning to the United States:
"The Maliki government, unfortunately, was an issue on which we were raising the red flag for many years, and we communicated this message to the U.S. officials, and we told them that they should not support Maliki, but they didn't listen to us, and what happened in the end?
"Those weapons, that were given to them, to the Maliki government, fell in the hands of ISIS when the army deserted them in Mosul. And those tanks, artillery, have become part of the occupation effort carried out by ISIS."
A reporter asked Erdogan what Turkey gave ISIS to secure the release of 49 Turkish hostages captured in June in Iraq.
"This process that took 102 days involved an operation by the national intelligence agency," Erdogan said. He denied his country paid ransom:
"But I can tell you first of all, that we have not had any monetary relationship. That's clear. Now, as to the rest, you probably cannot expect us to publicly divulge what the intelligence agencies do in their business. But the end result is that 49 diplomats, consular staff, have been freed.
"And some say that maybe there has been exchange. You might have an exchange, but it also takes some effort to prepare for such a thing. And efforts have been made and thankfully no harm was done to any single one of the 49 people."
Did Turkey release people in its custody to the terrorists? the reporter pressed.
"Well, I just said, such things may be possible," Erdogan replied.