Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was making “a very serious mistake” in demanding that Ankara guarantee the safety of Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria before the United States pulls its troops out of the country.
Criticizing the remarks Bolton made earlier in the week, Erdogan was quoted as saying there would be “no concessions” in Ankara’s push against what the Turkish leader describes as terror groups in Syria. Turkey denied promising the U.S. that Ankara will ensure the safety of the militia, known as the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
Erdogan made his comments after Bolton visited Ankara for consultations with government officials. Erdogan did not meet with him. Bolton instead met with other officials, including Erdogan’s special adviser and spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, as well as the country’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar.
Kalin told reporters, “Nobody should expect Turkey to provide assurances to a terror organization.”
A senior U.S. official told the Reuters news agency Bolton did not consider himself snubbed by Erdogan, as plans for a meeting between the two had not been confirmed. According to Reuters, Bolton was told that Turkey would not take offensive action in Syria while U.S. forces were there.
Washington backs the YPG in the war against Islamic State. Turkey has linked the YPG to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey. Turkey, along with the United States and the European Union, consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Bolton was rebuffed after trying to negotiate for roughly two hours the safety of the Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria. Bolton’s spokesman, Garrett Marquis, said talks between U.S. and Turkish military officials would continue Tuesday. Turkey and the U.S. are NATO allies.
U.S. President Donald Trump last month announced the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria as part of the fight against IS. Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson said Monday that “an approved framework for the withdrawal” is in place and that is not subject to an “arbitrary timeline.”
Erdogan also said his military has been planning a new offensive against terror groups in Syria and those plans are “to a large extent” complete.
In an opinion piece published on The New York Times’ website Monday, Erdogan praised Trump for making “the right call to withdraw from Syria.” A top Syrian Kurdish official told The Associated Press his forces are ready to confront Turkish forces if they enter northeastern Syria.
A U.S. withdrawal could allow Turkish troops to move against the Kurdish fighters.
But Erdogan also warned that Turkey would continue to work to defeat all terror groups, mentioning the YPG in that categorization.