Ankara, Turkey | AFP | Turkey on Monday vowed it would not be intimidated by US President Donald Trump’s threats of economic devastation if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces as American troops withdraw.
Trump’s threat came after Ankara repeatedly threatened a new 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) extremists.
US support for the YPG has been a major source of tension between the NATO allies.
“We have said repeatedly we are not scared of and will not be intimidated by any threats,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding: “Economic threats against Turkey will get nowhere.”
Trump on Sunday warned the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds”.
While there have been tensions over American training of the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, there appeared to be some improvement on the issue after Trump said last month 2,000 American troops would withdraw from Syria.
Ankara welcomed the pullout decision after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that Turkey could finish off the last remnants of IS.
Trump had also pushed for the creation of a 30-kilometre (20-mile) “safe zone”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said talks were under way on Washington’s proposal to establish the zone in flashpoint border areas of northeastern Syria.
“We want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to down the (Islamic State group) have security… and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey,” Pompeo said in Riyadh.
Cavusoglu earlier said that Turkey was “not against” a “security zone” in Syria, during a press conference in Ankara.
– Renewed tensions –
Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara would “continue to fight against them all”, referring to IS and the YPG.
Kalin added it was “a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK”.
There has been growing friction between Turkey and the US over the fate of the YPG, especially after Pompeo this month said Washington would ensure Turkey would not “slaughter” Kurds.
And before a visit to Ankara last week, White House National Security adviser John Bolton said the US retreat was conditional on the safety of the Kurdish fighters, provoking angry retorts from Turkish officials.
The threat of new sanctions hit the Turkish lira which weakened before 1400 GMT to reach 5.49 to the US dollar, a loss of nearly one percent in value on the day.
Washington previously hit Ankara with sanctions last August over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey, causing a dramatic fall in the lira’s value.
But to Turkey’s relief, the US sanctions were later lifted after Pastor Andrew Brunson was released by a Turkish court in October.
– ‘Radical solution’ in Idlib –
Turkey previously launched military offensives in northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 respectively against IS and the YPG. In early 2018, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish military forces captured the YPG’s northwestern enclave of Afrin.
Ankara, which supports Syrian opposition fighters, is also involved in the last rebel bastion of Idlib, where Turkey has agreed a buffer zone deal with Damascus ally Russia.
But the deal has not stopped an assault by jihadists in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, last week extended its administrative control over the whole of the Idlib region.
Syria’s National Coalition, the leading opposition body, on Sunday called for a “radical solution” to put “an end to its (HTS) presence” in Idlib.
“If Idlib is a terrorists’ nest, those responsible are not the Syrians who live in the region or Turkey but the regime and the countries which support (Damascus),” Cavusoglu said, claiming that the statements that HTS took 50 percent of Idlib are “not true”.
Cavusoglu added the Idlib deal was being “successfully applied” and that “our teams are working together to solve the minor issues”.