“Deep state” preventing Trump’s Syria withdrawal – Erdoğan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria has been obstructed by the “deep state,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Kanal 24 on Wednesday.

Erdoğan also discussed Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, vowing Turkey would “never go back” on the deal despite U.S. warnings of “grave consequences” earlier in the week.

“Trump has shown a determined stance during this process. Of course, there’s an established order in the United States we can call the deep state, and they’ve obstructed this,” Erdoğan said, referring to the Syria withdrawal.

The deep state is a term used to describe unelected officials who use their influence to serve their own agenda. The term has been popularly used for decades in Turkey, often in conspiracy theories, but has also gained prominence in the United States since Trump’s inauguration among supporters of the president who blame setbacks on shadowy domestic opponents.

On Dec. 19, Trump announced his intention to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria, where they have been deployed alongside the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State.

The U.S. backing for the Kurdish militias has been a consistent source of tension between Washington and Ankara, which views them as terrorist organisations due to their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

Trump has rowed back on his decision for an immediate withdrawal from Syria since December amid concerns from senior U.S. lawmakers that this would leave the United States’ Kurdish allies exposed to attacks from Turkey.

One solution put forth as a means to prevent conflict after U.S. forces leave is the creation of a safe zone to run between 30 and 40 kilometres south of the Turkish border. The White House announced in February that it would leave behind 200 troops alongside other international forces as part of a peacekeeping coalition.

Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey could not accept control of the safe zone by any other country, “because we could be attacked from there at any time”.

The Turkish president added that the United States should either take back the weapons it has supplied to Kurdish militias or give them to Turkey.

Erdoğan was similarly firm on Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile defence systems, a deal signed with Moscow in December 2017.

“The deal is done, there’s no point in discussing it as there’s no turning back ... We’re an independent country, not slaves,” Erdoğan said, adding that the first shipment is expected in July.

"We've made an agreement with Russia, we're going into joint production, and maybe after the S-400 we'll also buy the S-500s," Erdoğan said.

Turkey's NATO allies have raised serious concerns about Ankara's purchase of a defence system they say would not be interoperable with allies' existing defence systems. Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon warned this week of "grave consequences" for U.S.-Turkish relations if the deal goes ahead.