Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Turkey's Erdogan set to reject Pence call for truce in Syria

Oct 17. 2019
Recep Tayyip Erdogan /GettyImages
Recep Tayyip Erdogan /GettyImages
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By Bloomberg /Syndication Washington Post/· Selcan Hacaoglu · NATIONAL, WORLD, NATIONAL-SECURITY, EUROPE, MIDDLE-EAST

Turkey signaled it will reject U.S. calls for a cease-fire in northern Syria, as a top Turkish official described the allies as "miles apart" just hours ahead of crunch talks between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mike Pence.

The U.S. decision to withdraw troops and stand aside when Turkey advanced into Syria to target a Kurdish militia prompted widespread criticism, even from some of President Donald Trump's staunchest defenders.

The White House sought to limit the damage by imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and dispatching Vice President Pence, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to Ankara to push for an immediate truce.

But with Erdogan insisting he won't halt fighting until the Kurdish YPG -- which Turkey considers a terrorist organization for its links to the banned separatist PKK -- fully withdraws from the frontier strip, there appears little room for now for an agreement, according to the official who's familiar with discussions.

Turkey's yet to agree to a joint statement by Erdogan and the visiting Americans following talks scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. local time, the official, who asked not to be named, said.

Erdogan has already rejected an offer from Trump for the U.S. to broker talks between Turkey and the YPG, saying Turkey won't sit at the same table with "terrorist organizations." Ankara wants to resettle millions of Syrian refugees within the zone it wants to clear of the YPG.

The Kurdish fighters that are now under attack by Turkey's military -- the second-biggest in NATO -- had fought for several years alongside American troops against Islamic State.

The decision to abandon the Kurds and remove U.S. forces from Syria has kicked off a storm back home with the House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passing a bipartisan resolution rebuking Trump, and growing anger in the Senate.

Amid the criticism, Trump insisted the U.S. shouldn't get involved in any conflict between Turkey and Syria, dismissing the region as "a lot of sand." It also emerged that the U.S. president had written an Oct. 9 letter to Erdogan urging him not to be a "tough guy" or a "fool" in Syria.

"History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way," Trump said in the letter first reported by Fox Business Network and confirmed by the White House.

The Turkish official said that Thursday's talks would also help determine whether Erdogan travels to Washington on Nov. 13. U.S. sanctions imposed last week to try and end the offensive had further troubled ties, he said.

The row between the NATO allies has provided a boost for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key backer of Damascus. Syrian forces have moved northward to restrict the movement of Turkish troops as the regime of Bashar al-Assad sees the chance to extend its rule once again over Kurdish-held territory.

Erdogan is due to travel to Sochi to meet Putin on Oct. 22 to discuss the Syria operation.

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