"Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds” - Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump warned the United States would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds” in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, marking a possibly unprecedented threat against a NATO ally.

The president’s comments echoed a statement by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton last week that the U.S. withdrawal was contingent on Turkey agreeing not to attack the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) that Ankara views as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, which has fought an insurgency within Turkey for more than three decades, is listed as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States

Bolton’s statement angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who responded last week: “These people don’t know YPG, PKK ...This is unacceptable.”

Trump’s tweet on Sunday upped the ante, according to Michael S. Smith, U.S.-based terrorism analyst. “Either the Trump administration has decided economic well-being and national security are not two sides of the same coin, or this is an unprecedented threat to a NATO ally,” he tweeted.

Turkey’s economy limped into 2019. The lira lost around a third of its value last year, inflation is around 20 percent and economists predict an economic slowdown or recession. Erdoğan adviser Ibrahim Kalın responded to Trump's tweets.

“Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” he tweeted. “Turkey fights against terrorists, not Kurds. We will protect Kurds and other Syrians against all terrorist threats.”

“Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” Kalın said.

Ankara officials also pointed to an Erdoğan statement from 2015, in which he warned against the very kind of safe zone Trump planned to carve out today. “Regardless of the cost, we will never allow a statelet to be formed in northern Syria and on Turkey's southern border,” Turkey’s leader tweeted four years ago.

An informed Washington source, describing the safe-zone negotiations, told Kurdistan 24, “We’ve given Turkey a buffer zone.” But “it is to be the Turkish army, no militias,” and it “is not to go into the towns.” Also, several thousand Syrian Kurdish fighters trained in Iraqi Kurdistan “are to be included", the source said, in the forces that maintain stability in Syria following the U.S. pullout. 

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş on Monday commented on Trump's tweet threatening Turkey with economic devastation, calling the U.S. president's statement “unhealthy in every aspect.'' 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also rebuked Trump on Monday, saying Turkey is "not afraid of any threat. You cannot achieve anything with economic threats," independent news site T24 reported.

"We would do whatever is necessary to eliminate threat to our security," the Turkish foreign minister added.

Çavuşoğlu also noted that Turkey was not an enemy of Kurds and has throughout history been the country which ''defended'' them the most.

''We cannot get anywhere by considering these terrorist organisations as equals,'' he added.

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik responded to the threat against Turkey by re-tweeting a statement by Erdoğan, which said ‘’No matter the price, we will never allow for a state to be formed to the south of Turkey and north of Syria,’’ adding, "This is our word and decision on the matter.’’

After his first tweet, posted early Sunday evening in Washington, DC, Trump expanded his comments a few minutes later: “...Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria - natural enemies.”