WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Less than 24 hours after US President Donald Trump tweeted, “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit the Kurds,” Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone.
In the conversation, apparently conducted at Erdogan’s request, Trump repeated his earlier warning to Ankara about harming the Kurds, as the US prepares to withdraw its forces from Syria, and Turkey prepares to enter the predominantly Arab country.
Trump stressed “the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds,” as well as “other Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS,” White House Press Secretary explained following the discussion between the two leaders.
“The President’s aim there, I think, is the one that we have been talking about for some time, which is that we want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to take down the caliphate in ISIS have security, and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey,” she continued. “Those are the twin aims.”
U.S. White House National Security Adviser Amb John Bolton, emphasized continuing US support for Syrian Kurds later on Monday. In a tweet, Bolton described the two leaders’ discussion as “excellent” and affirmed that Trump had “reemphasized the consistent U.S. position on standing by the Kurds and those who fought with the U.S.”
President Trump had an excellent conversation with President Erdogan and reemphasized the consistent U.S. position on standing by the Kurds and those who fought with the U.S.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 14, 2019
Sanders also noted that talks are ongoing, as Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has returned to Turkey, which he just visited a week ago, on January 8, with Amb. John Bolton, White House National Security Adviser.
“To continue consultations with Turkey on Syria, General Dunford will meet with his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday,” the Press Secretary stated.
Sanders’ last comment tends to reinforce the suggestion of Paul Davis, former Pentagon analyst and now a Senior Fellow at Soran University, that Trump’s tweets aimed at strengthening the position of US negotiators in Turkey.
Asked about the tweets while he was leaving Saudi Arabia after talks there, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, responded that he had no particular knowledge.
“We have applied economic sanctions in many places,” Pompeo said. “I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things. You’ll have to ask him.”
Pompeo also reiterated, in general terms, the two aims of US policy, as US troops leave Syria, using the same language as Sanders.
“We want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to take down the caliphate in ISIS have security,” Pompeo said, “and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey.”
Those are the two main objectives of US policy in Syria now, and the likely aim of Trump’s two tweets on Sunday. However, there is a question of whether their strength and directness may have backfired, by offending Turkish pride.
The country will hold local elections in two months, and that poll ranks very high, if not foremost, in Erdogan’s political calculations.
“Trump’s threats have provided Erdogan with an opportunity to mobilize nationalist votes in Turkey in the run up to the local elections,” Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and currently a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.
Senior Turkish officials have responded indignantly to Trump’s tweets.
“We have repeatedly said that we are never afraid of threats,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday. “Threatening Turkey will get you nowhere.”
“Strategic partners do not speak through social media,” he added, in clear reference to the US president.
The US mediation between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, specifically the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which provide the military leadership for the SDF is without precedent.
The difficult talks have the potential to enshrine far-reaching change in northeast Syria, which would involve significant Kurdish self-administration, including political liberalization in areas now under SDF control.
However, the outcome of these discussions remains uncertain.