Turkey: Erdogan, Trump agreed to avoid power vacuum in Syria

Two leaders plan for coordination to prevent ‘any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase’ in Syrian territory, presidency says

US President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US counterpart Donald Trump agreed in a phone conversation Sunday to prevent a power vacuum in Syria after American ground forces withdraw, the Turkish presidency said Sunday.

“The two leaders agreed to ensure coordination between their countries’ military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum, which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Earlier, the US president tweeted that he had “a long and productive call” with Erdogan, and also discussed the Islamic State group (IS) and “heavily expanded trade.”

Trump shocked US allies last week, when he announced plans to pull the 2,000 US troops out of Syria, where they have been helping coordinate a multinational fight against IS. But the move was lauded by Turkey.

The decision followed an earlier Trump phone call with Erdogan, who has been pressing for a US withdrawal.

Turkish and US troops conduct joint patrols around the Syrian town of Manbij, as part of an agreement that aimed to ease tensions between the two NATO allies, November 1, 2018. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

An American pullout would allow Turkish troops to move against the hardened Kurdish fighters in Syria deemed terrorists by the Ankara regime — but who have strongly supported US efforts there. A war monitoring group said Saturday that Turkish troops have already been massing near the a Syrian-Kurd border area.

Many analysts fear the move will also allow Iran to more easily spread weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East. The US soldiers had been specifically deployed there to fight the Islamic State terror group, but had also helped block the establishment of an Iranian-controlled land corridor from the Islamic Republic through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Trump’s decision to withdraw all troops from Syria will not change Israel’s policy of acting against Iranian attempts to establish bases in the neighboring country.

Netanyahu told ministers from his Likud party that he plans to discuss the American withdrawal with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when the two travel to Brazil for the inauguration of President-elect Jair Bolsonoro next week, Channel 10 news reported.

Netanyahu spoke with Trump on the phone last Thursday about the US military withdrawal from Syria.

The two leaders discussed “ways to continue cooperation between Israel and the United States against Iranian aggression,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. It did not provide further details.

US President Donald Trump (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, on September 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump stunned his cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the pullout move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Erdogan last week, two US officials and a Turkish official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

The December 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as well as of Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-IS coalition. It also set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision.

Several US politicians of both parties rejected Trump’s claim that the jihadist forces of IS had been defeated, and many in the US military expressed alarm and dismay at the thought of suddenly abandoning their Kurdish allies.

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