Erdoğan rebukes, refuses to meet U.S. security adviser

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday refused to meet visiting U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton after saying Bolton had made a mistake by saying U.S. troops would not pull out of northeast Syria until Turkey had agreed not to attack Syrian Kurdish forces that the United States had fought alongside against Islamic State (ISIS).

Bolton met Erdoğan’s spokesman and special adviser, İbrahim Kalın, for nearly two hours early Tuesday to discuss cooperation over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria announced by U.S. President Donald Trump last month. As of 2 p.m. Ankara time, Bolton was preparing to leave the Turkish capital without meeting Erdoğan.

On Monday, Kalın criticised Bolton for insisting that the U.S. withdrawal was conditioned on Turkey not attacking the People's Protection Units (YPG), Kurdish Syrian forces that have fought with the United States against ISIS. Ankara sees those forces as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting in Turkey since 1984.  

Speaking in parliament just after Bolton's meeting with Kalin, Erdoğan said he could not swallow Bolton's stance on the Kurdish militia, according to reports from Bloomberg and Middle East Eye correspondent Ragip Soylu.

“These people don’t know YPG, PKK," said Erdoğan. "These terrorists cannot be representatives of our Kurdish brethren."

“YPG/PKK are terrorists," Erdoğan added. "Some say ‘Don’t touch them because they are Kurds.' This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist ...Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements."

No firm timetable has been set for the U.S. withdrawal. Trump announced the decision after a Dec. 14 phone call with Erdoğan, who had told him Turkey would take on the fight against ISIS in northern Syria.

The Bolton-Kalin meeting ended after an hour and 40 minutes, with no agreements or progress announced. Bolton said on Sunday that Turkey should coordinate any military action with Turkey.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum,” Bolton said, “so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Asked whether a U.S. withdrawal would not take place in Syria until Turkey guaranteed the Kurdish fighters would be safe, Bolton said: “Basically, that’s right.”