Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was in the US attend the United Nations General Assembly, cut his trip short and returned to Turkey a day sooner than expected.
The reason for Erdoğan’s early departure has not yet been revealed; however, he left soon after US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told the US Congress about plans to directly arm Syrian Kurds.
Erdoğan had plans on Friday in New York City that included delivering a keynote address at an event sponsored by Turkish organization the Global Policy Institute followed by a panel discussion moderated by former Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz.
He left the US early Friday morning.
In June of this year, Erdoğan cut another trip short and returned to Turkey when he went to the US to attend the funeral and memorial ceremony for boxing legend Muhammad Ali but was cut from the list of speakers and not allowed to leave a piece of the Kaaba on Ali’s coffin.
Speaking at the US Congress on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed that the United States will continue to work with the Kurds as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which mainly consists of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants, who Turkey considers to be an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“[The US] will continue to support and work with them. We have provided them with some equipment already and providing them arms. They [Kurds] are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” he said during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday.
The New York Times reported that the US administration is considering a plan to directly arm the Syrian Kurds to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), after the Turkish intervention risked the US losing Kurdish support to take the city of Raqqa.
Moreover, the defense secretary said he would do everything to help the SDF move towards Raqqa, even if this means arming them. “I support whatever is required to help them move in the direction of Raqqa,” he said.
Speaking during an interview with state-run TRT TV, Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın said that that it will not be possible for Turkey to join an operation by coalition forces against ISIL militants in the Syrian city of Raqqa if Kurdish fighters also take part.
“In principle, we support Raqqa and the other Syrian cities being cleansed of Daesh [the Arabic acronym of ISIL], but as we said before, we have principles and conditions we must observe,” Kalın said.