Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tore into U.S. demands over Kurdish groups in Syria Tuesday, hours after snubbing a meeting with John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
Bolton, currently touring the Middle East to reassure allies that the U.S. will not abandon them in the fight against ISIS, was scheduled to meet Erdogan Tuesday morning.
But the Turkish strongman refused to meet after the White House official said Sunday that U.S. withdrawal from Syria would be conditional on assurances from Ankara that the YPG, a Kurdish group who Washington has backed in the fight against ISIS, should play a key role in Syria after U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist organization and part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“These people don’t know YPG, PKK, [they] are terrorists,” Erdogan said during a speech to lawmakers in the Turkish parliament. “Some say ‘don’t touch them because they are Kurds’. This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist. They could be Turkmans. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements.”
Erdogan told the parliament that preparations for a new offensive against terror groups in Syria were almost complete.
Bolton did meet with his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin but Erdogan refused to join the talks. A press conference scheduled for after the meeting was also canceled at the last minute.
National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said U.S. officials were told Erdogan cited local election season and a speech to parliament for not meeting with Bolton.
Trump announced last month that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria within 30 days. That deadline was later shifted to four months, but in a speech in Jerusalem Sunday Bolton left the time frame for a withdrawal open-ended.
"As has happened in the past, despite our clear agreement with Trump on U.S. withdrawal from Syria, different voices started to come out from different levels of the American administration,” Erdogan said Tuesday.
Trump and Erdogan spoke on the phone about the U.S. withdrawal days after Trump’s surprise announcement, with the U.S. president tweeting that they had discussed a “slow and coordinated [U.S.] pullout.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested Sunday that Erdogan had promised Trump he would protect the YPG.
“Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump ... that the Turks would continue to the counter ISIS campaign after our departure, and that the Turks would ensure that 0the folks that we'd fought with — that assisted us in the counter ISIS campaign — would be protected,” Pompeo told CNBC.
Erdogan clearly remembers the call differently and said Turkey has proceeded on the basis that Trump would follow through on his initial promise. “We, largely, completed our military preparations against ISIS in accordance with our agreement with Trump,” Erdogan told lawmakers.
Cover image: U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel September 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)