Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Turkey says it won't be intimidated by US threats

Trump and Erdogan held another phone call on Monday to discuss the Syria standoff

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, talks to the media during a news conference in Ankara. Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP 
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, talks to the media during a news conference in Ankara. Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP 

After a day of fiery rhetoric from Washington Ankara, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump spoke by phone on Monday night to ease tensions over American support for Kurdish groups in Syria.

Mr Erdogan told Mr Trump that Turkey will support the US as it prepares to pull troops out of Syria, according to a statement by the Turkish presidency.

The two leaders also agreed that a road map for the key Syrian town of Manbij should be completed, referring to an earlier agreement to have Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw from the area. No details were given on the plan.

The crisis came about because of tweets from Mr Trump on Sunday.

“Starting the long overdue pull-out from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone....” Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.

The US President did not elaborate on the reach or purpose of the proposed safe zone, but continued on the topic in a following tweet.

“....Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria - natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded on Monday, saying: "We have said repeatedly we are not scared of and will not be intimidated by any threats.”

"Economic threats against Turkey will get nowhere,” he added.

The foreign minister also said that "strategic partners" should not communicate through social media, in a clear jab to Mr Trump.

Despite Mr Cavusoglu’s comments, Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with its Nato ally. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Mr Trump imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

The lira slid as much as 1.6 per cent to 5.5450 against the dollar and stood at 5.52 at 1122 GMT on Monday.

UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash weighed in on the Syria debate on Monday, stressing the role of Syria's Kurds in defeating ISIS and that "Arab interest requires addressing the role of the Kurdish component within a political framework and while preserving Syrian territorial integrity."

Tensions between Ankara and Washington have soured over threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attack territory controlled by US-backed Kurdish groups in Syria.

Turkey views Washington’s primary partner in the battle against ISIS in Syria – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – as a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the US.

Turkey’s presidential communications director said on Monday that Turkey does not have any issue with Kurds, but with the PKK “terrorist group” and its affiliates in Syria.

“The Republic of Turkey is not an enemy of Kurds, but a protector [of them],” Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter. Mr Altun stressed that “national security” was most essential for Turkey.

“Terror is terror and it must be eradicated. What Turkey doing in Syria is exactly that," he said, in a clear response to Mr Trump.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin addressed Mr Trump on Twitter saying that “terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honour our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.”

He also said it was a “fatal mistake” to equate Syrian Kurds with the “PKK, which is on the US terrorist list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG.”

"Turkey fights against terrorists, not Kurds. We will protect Kurds and other Syrians against all terrorist threats."

He vowed Turkey will continue its fight against these terror groups.

Mr Erdogan has signalled that a cross-border operation against the YPG in northeastern Syria will happen soon. Ankara has carried out two military campaigns in northern Syria against ISIS and the YPG since 2016.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was optimistic Syrian Kurds could be protected while also assuring Turkey of its right to defend itself against what it sees as terrorists.

"We are confident we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those," Mr Pompeo told journalists in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Pompeo is currently on a Middle East tour to reassure American allies that the US withdrawal from Syria won't affect the war against ISIS or efforts to restrain Iranian regional influence.

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