WASHINGTON >> A day after threatening Turkey with economic ruin if it goes too far in invading northern Syria, President Donald Trump said today that he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet at the White House next month.
The announcement came one day after Trump publicly warned Turkey it would be in “big trouble” if any American troops in Syria are injured during a military operation Turkey is preparing to launch against Kurdish fighters who had been allied with the United States against Islamic State militants.
The White House earlier this week announced plans to move U.S. troops out of harm’s way in northern Syria because it seemed that Turkey was intent on moving into Syria to confront Kurdish fighters that it claims are terrorists that threaten its national security.
The decision was roundly criticized by some of the president’s staunchest Republican allies in Congress, and Democrats who said Trump’s decision to move the U.S. troops cleared the way for a Turkish invasion and risks the release thousands of IS fighters and their families detained in Syria. Trump on Monday defended the decision, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from “endless war” in the Middle East, and he warned Turkey that he would ruin its economy if any American personnel are harmed.
Trump today sent a series of tweets that stirred confusion about the U.S.-Turkey relationship. He sent tweets defending Ankara as a big trading partner of the U.S., supplier of steel for F-35 fighter jets.
“We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” Trump said. “Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good.
“Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully understands that while we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency. We are helping the Kurds financially/weapons!”
Trump said he would welcome Erdogan to the White House on Nov. 13.
On Monday, two senior State Department officials made a point of noting that while the Turks had highlighted the invitation in their readout of the call, the previous night’s White House statement had not included any reference to an Erdogan visit to Washington. They said the Turkish readout was not incorrect but suggested that the omission of the trip from the White House statement was an indication of Trump’s unhappiness with Erdogan’s plans for an operation against the Kurds.
Turkey’s vice president says his country won’t bow to threats in an apparent response to Trump’s warning to Ankara about the scope of its planned military incursion into Syria.
Fuat Oktay said in a speech today that Turkey is intent on combatting Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.
Oktay said: “Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits.”