On the 13 January in a string of tweets, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to “devastate Turkey economically if they hit the Kurds”. This tweet has resulted in a diplomatic storm as Turkish officials take offence and U.S. officials scramble to explain and defend the statements made. The tweet also advocated the creation of a 20 mile (32 km) safe zone.
The tweets follow Trump’s declaration that he would be withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria. U.S. and Turkish diplomats have been negotiating the delicate fate of the Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have assisted U.S. military forces in battle during the conflict. The withdrawal of U.S. troops will leave the YPG vulnerable to Turkish attack.
Turkish foreign minister Melvut Cavusoglu referred to the tweets as a “domestic policy message” but criticised them, asserting that “strategic alliances should not be discussed over Twitter or social media”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems incensed at this threat. U.S. support for the YPG is not ideal from a Turkish perspective at all as they view the group as a terrorist organisation. This is the source of the majority of the tension surrounding this issue. Erdogan stated that Turkish engagement with the YPG “will not be deterred by any threat” and that “you can get nowhere by threatening Turkey economically”.
Turkish spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin further condemns the relationship stating that “terrorists can’t be your partners and allies”.
Turkish sanctions have conversely had a profound impact on the economy before this occasion. The sanctions were applied in response to the detention of a U.S. pastor and precipitated a nosedive in the value of the Turkish lira.
Interestingly, it seems that the Trump administration is having problems with the hastily tweeted threats as well. Mike Pompeo, current secretary of state, struggled to respond to questions regarding the president’s statements, saying, “you’d have to ask – you’d have to ask him”. He further scrambled to provide clarity in his statement that “we’ve applied sanctions in many places around the world. I assume he’s speaking about those kinds of things, but you’d have to ask him”.
Pompeo conducted talks with the Turkish foreign minister in an attempt to diffuse the anger surrounding the tweets. In a read-out of the call’s transcript, it was revealed that Pompeo committed to the U.S. addressing Turkey’s security concerns along the Syrian border.
John Bolton, an American attorney and political commentator, tweeted that “President Trump had an excellent conversation with President Erdogan and reemphasized the consistent U.S. position on standing by the Kurds and those who fought with the U.S.”.
At this time, the exact position of the U.S. in this situation remains unclear. The situation continues to unfold and the effects of the extraction of U.S. troops from Syria are yet to be seen. Regardless, the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Turkey is a crucial one in approaching peace in the Middle East and should be watched carefully.
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