Erdoğan rebukes US security adviser
TURKEY’S President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebuked Washington’s national security adviser on Tuesday for demanding that his country not attack Kurdish fighters in Syria, accusing him of complicating President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw US troops.
Mr Erdoğan said John Bolton, who held talks with Turkish officials in Ankara on Tuesday but left without meeting the president, “made a serious mistake” in setting conditions for Turkey’s military role after the US pull out.
The rebuke highlights the difficulties in implementing Mr Trump’s goal of bringing home some 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria. Mr Trump’s plan, clouded by mixed messages from the president and his administration, hinges on Turkish cooperation to secure a huge swathe of north-east Syria as the United States departs.
Mr Bolton made the case to Turkish officials for the need for guarantees that US-backed Kurdish fighters in the campaign against Islamic State would not be harmed after a US withdrawal, a senior US official said. But there were no signs of any agreement between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partners, whose relations have been strained over Syria and other issues.
Mr Trump’s abrupt announcement last month sparked concern among officials in Washington and some Western allies, and was a major factor in Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’ decision to resign. It also alarmed the YPG, Washington’s main partner against Islamic State in Syria.
But the plan was lauded by Ankara. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organisation and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in its largely Kurdish south-east. Washington’s support for the militia has infuriated Turkey.
A senior Turkish official said Mr Bolton had asked to see Mr Erdoğan but his earlier remarks may have been a factor in the meeting not going ahead. Mr Erdoğan later told reporters there was no need for him to meet Mr Bolton.
Instead, Mr Bolton met his Turkish counterpart İbrahim Kalin as well as the deputy defence and foreign ministers, while on a quick tour to the region to manage fallout from Mr Trump’s abrupt decision on Syria.
Mr Bolton also told the Turkish officials the US withdrawal would be done in a deliberate and orderly fashion and that at this point the United States had no plans to abandon its Syria base at al-Tanf near the Iraqi border, the senior US official said.
Ahead of Tuesday’s talks, Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper said Ankara would ask US officials either to hand over its military bases in Syria to Ankara or to destroy them. It cited unspecified sources as saying Turkey would not accept the handover of what it said were 22 US military bases to the YPG.
A senior Turkish security official said last week Washington needed to allow Turkey to use its bases in Syria. Mr Kalin said Turkey wanted the bases emptied and handed over to “local elements”.
Following the meeting, Mr Kalin said there was no slowdown in the US withdrawal from Syria and that Turkey was focused on what happens to US bases in Syria and the weapons Washington has given the YPG.
On Wednesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria the US troop withdrawal would not be scuppered and promised to ensure the Kurds would still be protected.
Mr Pompeo was meeting leaders in Iraq’s capital and its semiautonomous Kurdistan region, aiming to reassure them about Washington’s plans for the withdrawal.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Turkish counterpart İbrahim Kalin meet at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Tuesday