Ankara, Turkey | AFP | Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US counterpart Donald Trump mooted Monday the creation of a “security zone” in northern Syria as tensions rose over the fate of Kurdish fighters in the war-torn country.
In a telephone conversation, the leaders “discussed the idea of creating a security zone cleared of terrorism in the north of the country,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Trump confirmed this in a tweet later, but referred to the proposed area as a “safe zone.”
This came after Turkey vowed it “will not be intimidated” by Trump’s threats of economic devastation if Ankara attacked Kurdish forces as US troops withdraw from Syria.
Trump on Sunday warned the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds”.
Ankara has repeatedly threatened to carry out a cross-border operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have been working closely with the United States in the war on Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
US support for the YPG has been a major source of friction between the NATO allies.
The White House said in a statement that Trump had warned Erdogan against harming Kurdish military units.
“The president expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian democratic forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
– ‘Security zone’ –
But in his subsequent tweet, Trump put a more positive spin, noting that he and Erdogan “also spoke about economic development between the U.S. & Turkey — great potential to substantially expand!”
The strained relationship between Ankara and Washington initially seemed to improve after Trump announced last month that 2,000 US troops would withdraw from Syria.
Ankara welcomed the decision and Erdogan told Trump that Turkey could finish off the last remnants of IS.