Trump threatens to ‘devastate’ Turkey’s economy if it attacks Kurds

Ankara hits back after US president’s warning over withdrawal of troops from Syria

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US president Donald Trump. Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Monday  that Mr Trump should respect Washington’s alliance with Ankara. Photograph:  Adem Altan, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US president Donald Trump. Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Monday that Mr Trump should respect Washington’s alliance with Ankara. Photograph: Adem Altan, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the Nato allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as a terrorist organisation that is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has for decades waged an insurgency in Turkey.

Mr Trump and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed by phone on Monday the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria cleared of militia groups, the Turkish presidency said, without providing further detail.

Both men emphasised the need to avoid giving any opportunity to elements seeking to block the planned withdrawal of US forces from Syria, Ankara said.

Mr Trump said on Sunday the United States was starting the military pull-out he announced in December but that it would continue to hit Islamic State fighters there.

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone ...Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” Mr Trump tweeted.

Asked what Mr Trump meant by economic devastation, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things.”

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Mr Trump imposed sanctions on two of Mr Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Mr Trump should respect Washington’s alliance with Ankara. “Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” Mr Kalin tweeted.

“Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” he said.

Secure zone

Mr Trump gave no details about the safe zone proposal, but Mr Pompeo said Washington wanted to provide security for those who have fought Islamic State, also known as Isis, and to 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.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was not against the idea of a secure zone along the border, but said partners and allies should not communicate via social media.

“Nothing can be achieved by threatening Turkey economically. We need to look at how we can coordinate together and how we can solve this,” he said in a news conference with Luxembourg’s foreign minister.

The Kurdish YPG has been a US ally in the fight against the jihadists and it controls swaths of northern Syria. Mr Erdogan has vowed to crush it in the wake of Mr Trump’s decision to pull troops out.

Mr Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said: “Turkey will continue its anti-terror fight decisively,” and that it was a protector of the Kurds, not their enemy.

“Terror is terror and it must be eradicated at its source. This is exactly what Turkey is doing in Syria,” he tweeted.

Turkey has swept YPG fighters from Syria’s Afrin region and other areas west of the Euphrates river in military campaigns over the past two years. It is now threatening to strike east of the river, which it has avoided until now, partly to avoid direct confrontation with US forces.

An official from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of militias led by the YPG, said on Sunday Islamic State militants were “living their final moments” in the last enclave they hold near the Iraqi border.

Mr Trump’s withdrawal announcement came as he said US forces had succeeded in their mission to defeat the Islamic State group and were no longer needed.

However, US officials have given mixed messages since then. The US-led coalition said on Friday it had started the pullout but officials said later it involved only equipment, not troops. – Reuters