Turkey re­fuses U.S. pleas to spare Kurds from bat­tle

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The fate of Kurds whom the U.S. re­lied upon to bat­tle the Is­lamic State con­tin­ued to roil Pres­i­dent Trump’s hope for a Syria troop pullout, with Turkey’s leader re­ject­ing out­right Wash­ing­ton’s de­mand that it hold back on at­tack­ing Kur­dish forces after Amer­i­can forces depart.

In a sharp re­buke to Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John R. Bolton, who spent the time in Turkey last week try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate pro­tec­tions for the Kurds, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said he “can­not make any con­ces­sions” as his mil­i­tary pre­pares for a ma­jor of­fen­sive against Kur­dish forces in north­east­ern Syria.

Mr. Er­do­gan did not find time to meet with Mr. Bolton dur­ing his stay and told law­mak­ers that Mr. Trump’s se­nior se­cu­rity ad­viser made a “se­ri­ous mis­take” in seek­ing guar­an­tees about Turkey’s pol­icy to­ward the Kurds.

As Mr. Er­do­gan talked tough, a top Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cial said his fighters were pre­par­ing for a clash with Turk­ish forces after U.S. troops leave Syria.

“We will be ready,” Sha­hoz Hasan, cochair of the largest Kur­dish group in Syria, the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD), which worked closely with U.S. troops in Syria to roll back the Is­lamic State.

Turkey con­sid­ers the Syr­ian Kurds al­lies of Kur­dish sep­a­ratists in­side Turkey who have long bat­tled the cen­tral govern­ment in Ankara. Mr. Er­do­gan warns that a Kur­dish-run en­clave on the Syr­ian side of the bor­der would be a base for sep­a­ratist vi­o­lence in­side Turkey.

States across the re­gion are dealing with the fall­out from Mr. Trump’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment last month that the U.S. would with­draw 2,000 mostly special op­er­a­tions forces from Syria. They also are con­fused by con­tra­dic­tory ac­counts from Mr. Trump and his aides on the tim­ing and con­di­tions of the with­drawal.

Turkey ini­tially cel­e­brated the planned U.S. with­drawal and an­nounced that it would “fill the void” left by U.S. troops to elim­i­nate re­main­ing Is­lamic State el­e­ments in Syria, but frus­tra­tion has mounted in Ankara since Mr. Bolton ap­peared to set sig­nif­i­cant new con­di­tions for the pullout dur­ing a week­end trip to Is­rael.

Mr. Bolton said there is no spe­cific timetable for the pullout be­cause Wash­ing­ton is in­tent on en­sur­ing the Is­lamic State’s full de­feat and pro­tect­ing Syria’s Kurds from a loom­ing as­sault by Turkey.

Pom­peo mis­sion

Amid the con­fu­sion over Syria, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was ramp­ing up a ma­jor diplo­matic push to as­sure al­lies across the Mid­dle East of Amer­ica’s stay­ing power and ral­ly­ing sup­port against Iran.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo ar­rived in Jor­dan to start an eight-na­tion tour of the re­gion.

Mr. Pom­peo’s stops in Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emi­rates and Oman are meant to forge stronger unity among Arab pow­ers be­hind the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­gional strat­egy in the wake of Is­lamic State’s de­feat.

A key goal of the Pom­peo trip is to re­solve a nearly 2-year-old diplo­matic stand­off among sev­eral Arab pow­ers. The rift pits Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and Egypt against Qatar over claims that it is too closely aligned with Iran, sup­ports the Mus­lim Brother­hood and turns a blind eye on ter­ror­ism fi­nanc­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Mr. Pom­peo’s mis­sion got off to a rocky start with the sud­den de­par­ture of a top ad­min­is­tra­tion en­voy to the re­gion. An­thony Zinni, a re­tired Ma­rine Corps gen­eral and for­mer head of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand whom Mr. Trump tapped last year to help re­solve the Qatar dis­pute, told CBS News that he was re­sign­ing “be­cause of the un­will­ing­ness of the re­gional lead­ers” to sup­port U.S. me­di­a­tion ef­forts.

A State De­part­ment spokesman down­played the res­ig­na­tion by say­ing Mr. Zinni made progress in pro­mot­ing Mr. Trump’s idea for an “Arab NATO” to counter Iran.

The ques­tion now is whether Mr. Pom­peo can bring the idea to life. The sec­re­tary of state re­port­edly hopes in the months ahead to host a sum­mit of re­gional lead­ers on the new al­liance in New York — even if the dis­pute over Qatar re­mains un­re­solved.

There were in­di­ca­tions that he made progress in his first stop. Jor­da­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Ay­man Safadi sug­gested after meet­ing with Mr. Pom­peo that Am­man stands with Mr. Trump on the need to con­front Iran.

“We all have prob­lems with Iran’s ex­pan­sion­ist poli­cies in the re­gion,” Mr. Safadi said at a joint press con­fer­ence with the sec­re­tary of state. “We all want to make sure that what­ever threat there is mit­i­gated.”

Power vac­uum

Mr. Pom­peo has chal­lenged the no­tion that Mr. Trump’s Syria pullout will un­der­cut U.S. lever­age in the re­gion — though an­a­lysts say Iran and its Hezbol­lah al­lies in Lebanon are poised to fill part of the vac­uum left by the de­part­ing Amer­i­can forces.

There were con­flict­ing re­ports on whether Mr. Er­do­gan openly snubbed Mr. Bolton by can­cel­ing a meet­ing with him in Ankara. Turk­ish news out­lets said Mr. Er­do­gan had re­fused to meet with Mr. Bolton, but a spokesman for the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser sug­gested that the meet­ing may not have been con­firmed.

Spokesman Gar­rett Mar­quis said Mr. Bolton had a “pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sion” with his Turk­ish coun­ter­part, Ibrahim Kalin, on the im­pend­ing with­drawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

It was clear, how­ever, that Mr. Bolton got no as­sur­ances on the fu­ture of Kur­dish al­lies in Syria. Within hours of the meet­ing, Mr. Er­do­gan made in­ter­na­tional head­lines by say­ing that Turk­ish prepa­ra­tions for a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive against ter­ror­ist groups in Syria are “to a large ex­tent” com­plete.

Mr. Er­do­gan did not hold back in his re­marks last week to the Turk­ish par­lia­ment on his un­hap­pi­ness with U.S. calls for re­straint.

“Bolton’s re­marks in Is­rael are not ac­cept­able. It is not pos­si­ble for me to swal­low this,” the Turk­ish pres­i­dent said, ac­cord­ing to a trans­la­tion by CNN. “If he thinks that way, he is in a big mis­take. We will not com­pro­mise.”

Er­do­gan

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