Pence meets Erdogan to urge halt to Turkey’s Syria offensive

ANKARA: US Vice-President Mike Pence met President Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on Thursday on a mission to persuade him to halt an offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, but Turkish officials said the action would continue regardless.
The assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of IS fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Donald Trump.
Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle IS’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on October 9.
Trump defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant”. He said he thought Pence and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.
The White House released a letter from Trump to Erdogan from October 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!” Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict and the letter was “thrown in the trash”.
A Turkish official said: “The letter Trump sent did not have the impact he expected in Turkey because it had nothing to take seriously.
“What is clear is that Turkey does not want a terrorist organisation on its border and the operation will not stop because of the reaction that has been coming.”
Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not speak to reporters before the start of the meeting with Erdogan, but the official said they were likely to convey the same US demands, adding: “However, negotiating with a terrorist organisation or turning back from the ongoing operation are not on the agenda.”
On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that the United States was prepared to levy additional sanctions on if necessary “to keep Turkey in line”.
A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate for the sanctions by its Nato ally.
Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish militia Ankara views as terrorists.
Turkey will end its operation when Kurdish forces withdraw from the “safe zone” and “no power” can deter the operation until it reaches its goals, the Turkish leader said.
Turkey’s operation has allowed Syrian President Bashar al Assad to send his Russian-backed forces to an area that had been beyond his control for years in the more than eight-year-old Syrian war.
It also prompted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurdish YPG is the main component, to strike a deal with Damascus.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Syria should get control over its border with Turkey as part of any settlement of the conflict in the region.
A Reuters cameraman along the Turkish border with Syria said clashes continued around the border town of Ras al Ain on Thursday and that Turkish warplanes were flying overhead after a lull in fighting overnight.
Ankara had previously said it has taken control of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, two key towns along the border.
Syrian troops accompanied by Russian forces have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the British-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. — Reuters