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US and Turkey discuss Kurdish fighters

January 15, 2019

The US and Turkish presidents moved from Twitter to the telephone to exchange their views over the US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria. Washington is insisting the anti-"Islamic State" fighters should not be harmed.

Syria Democratic Forces fighters in Manbij
Image: Reuters/R. Said

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, took to the telephone to discuss the situation in northern Syria on Monday.

"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 in a statement, referring to the "Islamic State" (IS) extremist group.

The Turkish presidency said the two men discussed the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria cleared of militia groups. It did not provide any other details. 

Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria
Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria

Trump taking US troops out of Syria

The disagreement between the NATO allies is the latest consequence of Trump's December 19 decision to withdraw US military personnel from Syria. This could leave the Kurdish militia under threat should Turkey start a new offensive.

Over the weekend, Trump had taken to Twitter to threaten he would"devastate" the Turkish economy if Ankara sent its forces to attack the Kurds in northern Syria. The Kurds helped Washington in its fight against IS, but Turkey regards them as hostile forces posing a threat as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has for decades waged a separatist insurgency in Turkey.

Trump und Erdogan at NATO headquarters last year
Trump und Erdogan at NATO headquarters last yearImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Zenkovich

"Terrorists can't be your partners & allies," Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a tweet. "Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn't want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda."

Economic benefits and a safe zone

Relations appeared to have been at least partially soothed as Trump took to Twitter again on Monday evening, saying he and Erdogan "spoke about economic development between the US & Turkey - great potential to substantially expand!"

Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia, said the US wanted to provide security for those who had fought IS, and prevent any attack on Turkey from Syria. "If we can get the space and the security arrangements right it would be a good thing for everyone in the region," he said.

jm/se (AFP, Reuters)

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