President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that the necessary action will be taken “when the time comes” regarding U.S. President Donald Trump’s letter that shocked officials for its undiplomatic tone.
“Of course, we didn’t forget this. It’s not right if we forget, but our mutual love and respect don’t allow us to keep it constantly on the agenda,” Erdoğan told journalists in a meeting in Istanbul on Oct. 18, adding that “we don’t see this as our priority or an issue of today.”
“When the time comes, necessary action will be taken regarding this subject. We want this to be known,” he also said.
Trump’s Oct. 9 letter was addressed to Erdoğan in order make Ankara halt its military offensive in northeastern Syria.
The letter, which was obtained by a Fox Business reporter on Oct. 16, included phrases such as “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!”
“Let’s work out a good deal!” Trump said. “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will.”
“I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal,” he said in the letter.
Turkey launched its military offensive, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, in northeastern Syria on Oct. 9 with the aim of clearing the area of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and setting up a “safe zone” for the return of over one million Syrian refugees.
The leading group in the SDF is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a group that Turkey has been battling for over 30 years.
The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the U.S. and the European Union.
Upon meetings between Turkish and U.S. delegations in Ankara, the sides reached a ceasefire agreement that is set to last for 120 hours.
According to the deal, YPG militants will withdraw from the area that Turkey plans to set up a “safe zone.”
Speaking about the ceasefire, Erdoğan said that the offensive will continue if Washington doesn’t keep its promises by the end of the 120 hours.
“The issue of the safe zone would be dealt with if the U.S. keeps its promises when the 120 hour period ends. However, if it doesn’t, then within the minute that the 120 hours end, our Operation Peace Spring will continue from where it left off in a more determined manner,” he added.
Saying that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will be in the area during the ceasefire period, Erdoğan noted that the offensive will end when the area is cleared of Kurdish militants and the control is left to Turkish troops.
“According to our agreement, all of the sanctions imposed on our country will be lifted at the end of this process,” the president added.
During his speech, Erdoğan stressed that Ankara has no problem with the Syrian army controlling the areas cleared from the PKK and the YPG.
“Our main concern is the removal of these terrorist groups from the safe zone,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Erdoğan said that Ankara plans to set up 12 observation posts in the “safe zone,” adding that some 195 of the 750 ISIS militants “freed by the YPG” in northern Syria were apprehended.
“We will put 150 Turkish ISIS militants to trial and Western countries should try the rest,” he said.
Saying that Turkey will respond if Damascus “makes a mistake” in northern Syria, the president noted that Syrian refugees returning to their homeland can stay in areas under Syrian forces’ control.
“We won’t deal with these terrorist organizations for our entire lives. The regime must also carry out its struggle against these terror groups in Syria,” he added.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees and Ankara aims to make over one million of them return to the areas that will be declared within the “safe zone.”
Erdoğan said that if Raqqa, which was the “capital” of ISIS’ so-called caliphate before the jihadists were defeated by U.S.-backed Kurdish militants, and Deir al Zor are added to the “safe zone,” two million refugees can return to their countries.
Moreover, the president said he would discuss with Russia’s Vladimir Putin next week what steps to take in a planned “safe zone,” adding that Moscow needs to lead the efforts for peace in the west of Euphrates.
Erdoğan also said that his talks with Trump would turn a “new page” in ties, adding that joint efforts by Ankara and Washington on Syria will be easier if Trump’s circle supported his positive approach.
“My counterpart is Trump. Just as we hold necessary talks on the phone, we will also hold face-to-face meetings that will turn a new page in Turkish-U.S. ties, a new milestone,” Erdoğan said.
“Trump’s circle supporting his positive approach will make our work easier,” he told journalists in Istanbul, adding that the Ankara and Washington have a lot to do together after “terrorists are gone.”
Upon a question regarding the “safe zone,” Erdoğan said that it will be 32 kilometers in depth and 440 kilometers in length.
“What we mean by the safe zone is not only the area between Ayn al-Arab and Tal Abyad. The area between Ayn al-Arab and Ras al-Ayn is cleared, but it’s not completed yet,” he added.