Erdogan says he won’t meet Pence, Pompeo on Ankara visit
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Erdogan says he won’t meet Pence, Pompeo on Ankara visit

Turkish leader says he is ‘standing tall’ on Syria operation, will only confer with Trump; warns Kurdish forces to ‘get out by tonight’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during an extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019. (Adem ALTAN/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during an extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019. (Adem ALTAN/AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he would not meet with US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Ankara to discuss Turkey’s military operation in Syria.

“I am standing tall. I will not meet with them,” he told Sky News, referring to Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“They will meet with their counterparts. I will speak when Trump comes,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Erdogan said that the only option for Kurdish militants in Syria was to give up the battle and retreat.

“Our proposal is that right now, tonight, all the terrorists lay down their arms, their equipment and everything, destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated,” he said, adding that this would be “the quickest way of solving the problem in Syria.”

Erdogan made the comments in Parliament amid pressure for him to call a ceasefire and halt Turkey’s incursion into Syria, now in its eighth day.

Ankara’s assault against Kurdish forces has prompted a chorus of international condemnation.

Erdogan made clear Turkey would not bow to pressure and would press ahead with the military operation until Turkish troops reach a depth of some 30 or 35 kilometers (18 to 21 miles) inside Syria.

He also called on the world to support Turkey’s battle against Kurdish groups it considers “terrorists” for their links to an insurgency within its own borders.

Turkish tanks and troops stationed near Syrian town of Manbij, Syria, October 15, 2019. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP)

Turkey last week began its operation to drive back Syrian Kurdish militants from northern Syria, after the US pulled 1,000 troops out of the area.

The withdrawal was seen as a green light from the White House for the Turkish offensive.

But facing a massive backlash at home, US President Donald Trump later issued a series of conflicting statements, at times threatening Ankara, and at others, suggesting the US had no role in the fight between Turkey and Kurdish militants.

In comments published Wednesday, Erdogan said he could no longer “keep track” of the tweets by Trump.

“When we take a look at Mr Trump’s Twitter posts, we can no longer follow them,” Erdogan told Turkish journalists aboard a plane returning from Baku, in comments carried by the Hurriyet daily.

In his interview with the Turkish journalists, Erdogan also shared an anecdote from his telephone call with Trump this week.

“I told Trump: ‘You get very angry with the media from time to time. You are now under their influence. Don’t listen to them, you are a strong leader. This does not befit a strong leader,’” he said, according to the Yeni Safak daily.

On Tuesday, Britain and Spain joined other major powers in suspending military exports to Turkey following its incursion. The announcements from London and Madrid follow similar moves by key European and NATO allies, including Germany — one of Ankara’s main arms suppliers — and France.

Erdogan has said he wants to establish a safe zone stretching across northern Syria, to which Turkey can repatriate many of the 3.6 million refugees that it is hosting from the Syrian conflict.

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