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No Erdogan meeting for Bolton in Turkey

January 8, 2019

John Bolton's visit to Turkey seems unlikely to secure assurances for Kurdish groups in northern Syria. President Erdogan couldn't meet with Trump's national security adviser, but told allies he'd make no "concessions."

John Bolton
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Harnik

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not meet with US national security adviser John Bolton in Ankara, US officials said on Tuesday.

Bolton had set aside two days for a trip to Turkey to discuss the eventual withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria. Bolton said on Sunday, in Israel, that he would seek assurances that Turkey would not harm US-allied Kurdish forces in Syria, a condition of the withdrawal.

Erdogan cited a local election season and a speech to parliament as the reasons for not meeting with Bolton, according to US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis. Bolton did meet his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin and other senior officials at Ankara's presidency complex, but received no assurances regarding the Kurds' safety. 

Türkei Ankara John Bolton, Sicherheitsberater von US-Präsident Trump mit Ibrahim Kalin
US National Security Advisor John Bolton (left) and Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin (right)Image: picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/S. Sagirkaya

Soon after what US news agency AP described as "an apparent snub," Erdogan gave a fiery speech to parliamentarians from his Law and Justice Party (the AKP), saying Bolton made a "serious mistake" calling for the condition. 

"We cannot make any concessions," he told his party's MPs. "Those involved in a terror corridor in Syria will receive the necessary punishment."

The tone of the speech contrasted with that of an op-ed the Turkish president had written for Tuesday's edition of the  New York Times, in which he praised the US' withdrawal from Syria but said it needed to be "planned carefully and performed in cooperation with the right partners."

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan addresses AKP members during a parliamentary group meetingImage: picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/V. Furuncu

US allies

The United States fought alongside and supported the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militant group in Syria against the so-called "Islamic State." Kurds in Iraq also fought against IS militants in alliance with NATO powers, while Turkey is fighting an insurgency within its own borders against Kurdish groups.

The Turkish government considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization, allied with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. The YPG has said it fears an assault by Turkey in Syria if the US withdraws.

Serhat Guvenc, a professor of international relations in Istanbul, told DW that he didn't expect Turkey to give the US any guarantees regarding the Kurdish question.

"For Turkey, neither [Syrian President Bashar] Assad nor IS is in the foreground in Syria — especially to the east of the Euphrates. While fighting IS, Turkey will simultaneously do everything it can to annihilate the YPG," Guvenc said. "If the United States wants guarantees, they will not come easy."

Kurdish groups in Turkey, Iraq and Syria are interconnected, with the Kurdish people seeking an independent state that could span parts of all three countries.

dv/msh (AFP, AP)

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