Jan 15 2019

Following Trump threat, Erdoğan signals broader cooperation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was saddened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet threatening Turkey’s economy, but signalled friendlier relations on Tuesday, announcing what he said was an historic agreement between the NATO allies.

“Messages from Trump’s social media accounts saddened me and my friends,” Erdoğan said in parliament, according to Bloomberg. Turkey’s leader was referring to Trump’s tweet on Sunday threatening to devastate Turkey’s economy should Ankara go after American-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Washington has said the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria was contingent on Turkey not attacking the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS). Ankara has vowed to destroy the YPG, which it considers the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

"We have reached an agreement of understanding that is of historic importance," Erdoğan said on Tuesday, confirming that “a 20-mile (30 kilometre) security zone along the Syrian border ... will be set up by us.”

Erdoğan said that his plans include building homes inside the safe zone, according to Hürriyet. He said Turkey's Public Housing Development Administration (TOKI) can support construction of new communities in the zone "if coalition forces give us material support," he said. 

"This will completely prevent the migration" of more Syrians, he said.

Reporters also asked whether Syrian Kurdish YPG forces will have any role establishing the buffer zone. Erdogan swiftly rejected such an idea and said, YPG and PYD are just like ISIS and that Turkey will cleanse all terrorists from the region.

Erdoğan’s shift to friendlier rhetoric mirrored that of Trump, who on Monday tweeted about “great potential” to increase economic collaboration and “two weeks of success” fighting ISIS.

“We’ve told Trump that our priority in Syria is to fight” ISIS, Erdoğan said in parliament.