Erdogan chides Bolton and calls on US to hand over Syria bases
Turkish president makes scathing speech to parliament as US adviser still in Ankara
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA
Turkey has asked Washington to hand over its bases in Syria as the Trump administration appeared to reverse plans to withdraw from the country’s northeast on Tuesday, jeopardising Ankara’s plans to launch a widespread military operation targeting Kurdish groups.
The fresh row between the two Nato allies broke out as US national security adviser, John Bolton, was in Ankara to walk back a surprise announcement by President Donald Trump in December that US forces would leave imminently, abandoning Kurdish proxies who had led its ground war against the Islamic State terror group. Turkey views those same Kurdish groups as enemies.
In a scathing speech to parliament, delivered while Mr Bolton was still in the Turkish capital, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the US envoy had “made a serious mistake” and that Turkey would never agree to a compromise that protected the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, whose members had helped a US-led coalition push Isis out of most of Syria’s east.
“Elements of the US administration are saying different things,” said Mr Erdogan. “The YPG and the PKK can never be representatives of the Kurdish people.”
The Turkish leader said Ankara’s military had finished preparations to enter Syria and that Washington was stalling on a commitment to leave the town of Manbij as a first step.
Before arriving in Ankara, Mr Bolton had directly contradicted the US president, claiming that Washington would not leave Syria without first receiving guarantees that Turkey would not attack its allies.
The added condition came amid a furore over Mr Trump’s claims that Isis had been defeated and his apparent disregard for the fate of Kurdish forces recruited for the cause, whom Ankara had never accepted as legitimate allies. Mr Erdogan on Tuesday repeated his insistence that no there is no distinction between the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Turkey, with whom Ankara has fought a four-decade civil war.
Throughout the Syrian war, and in particular since the US partnered with the Kurds in 2014, Turkey has been deeply wary of Kurdish post-war ambitions, and what they might mean for the 500-mile border it shares with its southern neighbour.
An emboldened Kurdish cause has been a nightmare scenario for Turkish officials, whose crackdown on the Kurds inside Syria intensified 11 months ago, when the country’s military invaded an enclave in Syria’s northwest, ousting the YPG from the town of Afrin. – Guardian