Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said that his military “will not stop” trying to oust Syrian Kurdish fighters from northern Syria, as he met with the leaders of Russia and Iran for talks on trying to resolve the conflict.
The three nations, which have teamed up to work for a Syria settlement despite their differences, reaffirmed their commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and the continuation of local ceasefires.
They called on the international community to provide more aid for war-ravaged Syria.
Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were holding their second summit to discuss Syria’s future since attending a similar meeting in Sochi, Russia, in November last year.
Russia and Iran have provided crucial support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while Turkey has backed the rebels seeking to overthrow him.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkish troops, which last month took control of the northwestern Kurdish enclave of Afrin, would move eastward into Manbij and other areas controlled by the US-backed Kurdish militia, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group.
“I say here once again that we will not stop until we have made safe all areas controlled by the [YPG], starting with Manbij,” Erdogan said.
He said that Turkey’s fight against the YPG would not distract from efforts to eliminate remnants of the Islamic State group from Syria.
Wednesday’s summit came as the White House said its military mission to eradicate the Islamic State group in Syria was coming to a “rapid end,” though it offered no timetable for the withdrawal of the about 2,000 US troops in Syria as part of a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militants since 2014.
US President Donald Trump had said a day earlier that the US’ primary mission was to defeat the Islamic State group and “we’ve almost completed that task.”
With allies anxious about a hasty US withdrawal, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the US would stay in war-torn Syria to finish off the job of defeating the Islamic State group and was committed to eliminating the militants’ “small” presence that “our forces have not already eradicated.”
However, Sanders suggested that would not be a long-term endeavor and she described the extremist group that once controlled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq as “almost completely destroyed.”
Trump’s comments conflict with the views of his top military advisers, some of whom spoke at a separate event in Washington on Tuesday about the need to stay in Iraq and Syria to finish off the militant group.
Asked about a possible US pullout, Rouhani on Wednesday suggested that the US threat to withdraw from Syria was an excuse for soliciting money from nations that want US forces to remain there.
“One day they say they want to pull out of Syria... Then it turns out that they are craving money,” he said. “They have told Arab countries to give them money to remain in Syria.”
It was unclear what Rouhani was referring to, but Trump has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute US$4 billion for reconstruction in Syria as part of his efforts to get other nations to help pay for stabilizing the country, said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the conversations publicly.
Rouhani also said that there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis.
“It should be resolved through political solutions,” he said.
Russia, Iran and Turkey have sponsored several rounds of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, and brokered local truces in four areas, helping to reduce hostilities.
Their next tripartite meeting is to be held in Tehran.
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