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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Erdogan says new US conditions for Syria withdrawal a 'mistake'

The Turkish president refused to meet John Bolton who is currently in Ankara

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP). Reuters
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP). Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday lambasted comments made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton over the need for Ankara to guarantee the protection of Kurdish groups in Syria.

Mr Ergodan said new conditions laid out by Mr Bolton regarding the withdrawal of US troops from Syria are “unacceptable” and a “grave mistake,” shortly after the national security adviser held meetings with officials in Ankara.

Mr Erdogan refused to meet Mr Bolton who landed in Turkey on Monday after visiting Israel, in an apparent snub over disagreements about Kurdish fighters in Syria.

National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said US officials were told Mr Erdogan cited local election season and a speech to parliament for not meeting with Mr Bolton.

The Turkish president spoke in parliament to criticise new conditions for a US withdrawal.

"It is not possible to accept or swallow the message given by Bolton from Israel," Mr Erdogan told his party's members of parliament.

Mr Bolton said while in Israel that the US would not withdraw troops from Syria until it could guarantee that its Kurdish partners would not be endangered by Ankara.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully co-ordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Mr Bolton said. “So that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

The US backs the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — a Syrian Kurdish group that commands much of the country’s northeast and is the main backbone of a US-backed alliance fighting ISIS in the country.

Mr Erdogan on Tuesday said that "despite the fact that we reached a clear agreement with Mr. Trump, different voices have been raised from different echelons of the US administration."

But he added that "Mr. Trump's views on Syria and his determination to pull out remain our point of reference."

He said that he could not compromise on the issue of the YPG in Syria, which Ankara views as a terrorist organisation and part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"For Turkey, there is no difference between PKK, YPG … or Daesh," he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

"Very soon we will act to neutralise terrorist groups in Syria. And we will take out other terror groups that might try to prevent us from doing this," he told parliamentarians from his Justice and Development Party.

Mr Erdogan also criticised the US for claiming that Turkey targets “Kurds” in Syria. He said such allegations are “dishonourable, ugly, vulgar and defaming”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Bolton and his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin had a productive discussion regarding the US decision to withdraw from Syria, a spokesman for the US National Security Council said.

Mr Marquis also said in a statement the two sides had identified further issues for dialogue and that the United States looks forward to military-to-military consultations on Tuesday.

Mr Trump's shifting timetable for pulling US troops out of Syria has left allies and other players in the region confused and jockeying for influence over a withdrawal strategy that appeared to be a work in progress.

Mr Trump insisted on Monday that his policy on withdrawing troops from Syria had not changed, even as the drawdown timeline shifted from “coming back now” to “leaving at a proper pace”, which his national security advisor has suggested could take months, if not years.

The confusion over the timeline for withdrawal reflects confusion in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, staff of whom were, like US allies, not informed of the president’s decision in advance.

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Updated: January 8, 2019 04:26 PM

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