Turkey will not bow to threats over its Syria plans, the Turkish vice president has said in an apparent response to US president Donald Trump’s warning to Ankara about the scope of its planned military incursion into north-eastern Syria.
Mr Trump said earlier this week the United States would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years, but he then threatened to destroy the Turks’ economy if they went too far.
The US president later cast his decision to abandon the Kurdish fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from “endless war” in the Middle East, even as Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a US ally and undermining American credibility.
Mr Trump’s statements have reverberated on all sides of the divide in Syria and the Mideast.
In Ankara, Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay said Turkey was 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.
“Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Mr Oktay said.
Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital of Damascus, deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad called on the country’s Kurds to rejoin the government side after apparently being abandoned by their US allies.
Mr Mekdad’s comments were the first Syrian reaction since Mr Trump’s announcement on Sunday and as north-eastern Syria braces for an imminent Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish militias.
Mr Trump’s statement has infuriated the Kurds, who stand to lose the autonomy they gained from Damascus during Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.
“The homeland welcomes all its sons and Damascus will solve all Syrian problems in a positive way, away from violence,” Mr Mekdad claimed in an interview with the pro-government daily Al-Watan.
President Bashar Assad’s government abandoned the predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria at the height of Syria’s civil war to focus on more key areas where the military was being challenged by the rebels.
The US began working with the Syrian Kurdish fighters after the emergence of the so-called Islamic State group.
The Syrian government “will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil,” Mr Mekdad said about the expected Turkish incursion.
The Syrian Kurdish force has pledged to fight back, raising the potential for an eruption of new warfare in Syria.
“We will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people” against Turkish troops, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement, adding that it has lost 11,000 fighters in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the US-backed predominantly Kurdish force that fought IS invited Mr Trump to come see the progress the force and the US made in north-eastern Syria.
“We have more work to do to keep ISIS from coming back & make our accomplishments permanent. If America leaves, all will be erased,” he tweeted, referring to the IS group by an alternative acronym.
Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and links them to a decades-old insurgency in Turkey, has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria over the past years.
The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs attacked areas held by the IS group west of the Euphrates River.
Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.
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. Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good. Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2019
A day after threatening Turkey with economic ruin if it goes too far in invading northern Syria, Mr Trump said that he and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet at the White House next month.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump sent a series of tweets that stirred confusion about the US-Turkey relationship.
He sent tweets defending Ankara as a big trading partner of the US, 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,” Mr 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!”
Mr Trump said he would welcome Mr Erdogan to the White House on November 13.