Erdogan dismisses US call for an immediate cease-fire, saying Trump's tweets are too confusing to keep up with

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jserraglio
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Erdogan dismisses US call for an immediate cease-fire, saying Trump's tweets are too confusing to keep up with

Post by jserraglio » Wed Oct 16, 2019 9:27 am

WALL STREET JOURNAL

ISTANBUL—Turkey dismissed a U.S. call for an immediate cease-fire in northeast Syria, pressing ahead with its military offensive as senior Trump administration officials rushed to Ankara to try to halt fighting triggered by the withdrawal of American troops from the region.

President Trump has dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence to the Turkish capital, where they will meet with Mr. Erdogan on Thursday to urge him to stop a weeklong military incursion in northeastern Syria.
But Mr. Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkish troops would only stop the offensive if the Kurdish militia that Ankara views as a terrorist threat drops the fight and leaves areas they control along the Turkish-Syrian border by Wednesday night.
The Trump administration is scrambling to contain the escalation of hostilities following President Trump’s Oct. 6 order to withdraw the roughly 1,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in northeastern Syria. The arrival of Messrs. Pence and Pompeo is part of Washington’s efforts to claw back control of events that have diminished the U.S.’s leverage to shape Syria’s post-conflict future and made Russian President Vladimir Putin the leading power broker.
The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey for launching the offensive on the Kurdish militia, a group that Washington had allied with to fight Islamic State.
After Mr. Erdogan made contradictory statements, his office clarified Wednesday that the president would meet with Messrs. Pompeo and Pence. But Mr. Erdogan criticized Washington’s efforts to mediate, in advance of the meeting.
“Honestly, I do not find it appropriate that a country like the U.S. acts as a mediator between a terrorist organization and an ally like the Turkish Republic,” Mr. Erdogan told Turkish media late Tuesday while flying back from Azerbaijan.
On the ground in northeastern Syria, troop movements reflected the fast-changing geopolitical dynamic sparked by Mr. Trump’s Oct. 6 order to withdraw the U.S. forces.
Mr. Erdogan said the Turkish military had pushed more than 20 miles into Syria and taken control of the strategic M4 highway, which runs parallel to the border with Turkey and was one of the main supply lines for Kurdish forces. Meanwhile, Russian forces filled the void created by departing U.S. troops, notably in the border city of Manbij, were they began patrolling the line between Turkish and Syrian armies.
After Mr. Trump withdrew from the partnership with Kurdish fighters, the militia sought to shield itself from the Turkish offensive by striking an alliance with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Russia and Iran.
Highlighting Russia’s growing influence in the region, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin had invited Mr. Erdogan to come to Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria. The Turkish president hasn’t said if he would go.
Mr. Trump has invited Mr. Erdogan to the U.S. next month. Mr. Erdogan’s office has acknowledged the invitation but hasn’t confirmed if he will travel to the U.S.
The Turkish president has said he is increasingly straining to follow the positions of his U.S. counterpart. “When we look at Mr. Trump’s Twitter statements so far, we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t follow them anymore,” Mr. Erdogan was quoted as saying in his interview with Turkish media. “We can’t keep up with them.”
Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was expected to arrive in the Turkish capital Wednesday for a preparatory meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
For the U.S., “goal No. 1 is to carry out diplomacy, to try to find a cease-fire and get the situation under control,” a senior Trump administration official said.
The official denounced Ankara’s suggestions that the U.S. had provided Kurdish-led forces in Syria with heavy weapons, saying it has given the Syrian Democratic Forces mainly small arms and mortars.
Turkey’s incursion has displaced some 130,000 people from their homes in northeast Syria since it began one week ago, the United Nations said. The majority have remained within the country, moving away from the border to seek sanctuary from the fighting.
Mr. Trump has dismissed criticism for exposing a U.S. ally with his decision to pull troops from Syria. On Monday, he authorized sanctions and raised steel tariffs on Turkey, threatening more-powerful financial penalties unless Ankara halted its offensive.
Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com

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