US Vice President Mike Pence met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on Thursday on a mission to persuade him to halt an offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, but Turkish officials said the action would continue regardless.
The assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of ISIS fighters abandoned in Kurdish-controlled prisons, and a political maelstrom at home for President Donald Trump.
Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led forces, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle ISIS’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant”. He said he thought Pence and Turkish President Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.
The White House released a letter from Trump to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!” Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict and the letter was “thrown in the trash.”
A Turkish official told Reuters: “The letter Trump sent did not have the impact he expected in Turkey because it had nothing to take seriously.
“What is clear is that Turkey does not want a terrorist organization on its border and the operation will not stop because of the reaction that has been coming.”
Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not speak to reporters before the start of the meeting with Erdogan, but the official said they were likely to convey the same US demands, adding: “However, negotiating with a terrorist organization or turning back from the ongoing operation is not on the agenda.”
On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC that the United States was prepared to levy additional sanctions on if necessary “to keep Turkey in line.”
A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate for the sanctions by its NATO ally.