President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told US President Donald Trump that Turkey will never declare a ceasefire in northeastern Syria and that it will not negotiate with the Kurdish forces it is fighting in its offensive into the region, Reuters reported.
Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria on Tuesday despite US sanctions and calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by US forces.
The YPG, the key component of the forces that fought the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish separatist insurgents in Turkey.
On Monday, Trump announced sanctions on Turkey to punish it for the offensive. On Tuesday, a senior US official said Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a ceasefire and halt its offensive.
However, speaking to reporters on a flight back from Baku, Erdoğan said the offensive would continue until it achieves its aims and added that he was not worried about sanctions.
“They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdoğan said. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions,” he said.
Erdoğan said he told Trump in a phone call earlier this week that he should send a US delegation to Ankara to discuss their demands and try to reach an agreement. The White House said on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence would meet with Erdoğan in Ankara on Thursday.
Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria after a phone call with Erdogan not only cleared the way for the Turkish incursion, but it also gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory mark a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.
Asked about the deployment of Syrian forces to the northern town of Manbij, Erdoğan, who has backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad, said he was not bothered.
“The regime entering Manbij is not very negative for me. Why? It’s their land after all. But what is important to me is that the terrorist organization does not remain there,” Erdoğan said, referring to the YPG.
“I told Mr. Putin this as well. If you are clearing Manbij of terrorist organizations, then go ahead, you or the regime can provide all the logistics. But if you are not going to do this, the people there are asking us to save them,” he added.
Erdoğan also said an attack from Manbij on Tuesday that killed one Turkish soldier was launched by the Syrian government and that Turkey “made the regime pay a heavy price” in retaliation.