Uncertainties have been looming over a U.S. delegation’s visit to Turkey, with contradictory statements regarding whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet U.S. officials or not.
“I’m not going to talk to them. They will be talking to their counterparts. When [U.S. President Donald] Trump comes here, I’ll be talking,” he told Sky News in parliament when asked about what he will say to the U.S. delegation.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is leading the delegation that includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security advisor Robert O’Brien and the special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey.
When asked whether he was worried about the U.S. delegation’s visit, Erdoğan said, “Why would I be?”
With the visit, the delegation aims to persuade Erdoğan to stop Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria, which has been repeatedly rejected by the president.
Turkey launched its Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9, days after Trump announced that U.S. troops would be withdrawing from the area.
With its offensive, Turkey aims to clear the area from militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and set up a “safe zone” in order for the return of at least one million Syrian refugees to their homeland.
Trump’s decision was deemed as betrayal by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG is the leading group.
Turkey perceives the YPG as a terrorist group due to its links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which the country has been battling for more than 30 years.
The PKK is accepted as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
While the U.S. and the EU has been urging Turkey to stop its offensive, Erdoğan has been remaining defiant.
“Our country is not carrying out an invasion or occupation on Syrian soil, but it’s conducting an anti-terror offensive. We are fighting against tyrants with the Syrian people and not against them. What you say doesn’t matter. We’ll continue to call terrorists ‘terrorists’ and treat them as such,” he told lawmakers of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a parliamentary group meeting on Oct. 16.
Earlier on, Erdoğan also rejected calls for a ceasefire.
“They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdoğan told reporters after a visit to Azerbaijan on Oct. 15.
“They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions,” he added, referring to sanctions announced by Trump against Ankara.
‘Erdoğan will meet with US delegation’
Speaking about Erdoğan’s remarks on meeting with the U.S. delegation, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said that the president “does plan to meet the U.S. delegation.”
“Earlier today, the President told SkyNews that he won’t receive a U.S. delegation that is visiting Ankara today. He does plan to meet the U.S. delegation led by @VP tomorrow — as confirmed in the below statement to the Turkish press,” Altun tweeted on Oct. 16, as he shared Erdoğan’s more recent remarks.
“Me meeting with people other than Pence and Pompeo is out of question,” Erdoğan says in the footage.
Also on the same day, Pompeo said he and Pence aimed to stop Turkey from pressing on with its offensive.
Pompeo, in an interview on Fox Business Network, said the U.S. delegation’s goal was to find a resolution to the situation in Syria, not break the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
“We have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdoğan,” Pompeo told the network, adding that it was important that top officials from the Trump administration have direct, “face-to-face” talks.
“The president felt it was important that we do this at the most senior levels of the United States government to speak to him face to face — he needs to stop,” he also said.
‘This is a complex situation’
“He needs to stop the incursion into Syria,” Pompeo said. “We need them to stand down. We need a ceasefire at which point we can begin to put this all back together again.”
Asked if he held Erdoğan personally responsible for the situation in Syria, Pompeo said: “We have to remember this is a complex situation.”
Also on the same day, Erdoğan said that he would decide whether to go ahead with a planned visit next month to the U.S. after meetings with the U.S. delegation.
Speaking to reporters in parliament, Erdoğan said he would re-evaluate the trip because “arguments, debates, conversations being held in Congress regarding me, my family and my minister friends are a very big disrespect” to the Turkish government.
Erdoğan and Trump are due to meet in Washington on Nov. 13.