US President Donald Trump and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had an indirect exchange of views on their Syria policy at the G20 summit in Osaka. The main focus was on the Kurdish militias of the YPG, which are supported by United States and opposed by Turkey as allies of the banned Turkish Kurdish organization PKK.
Donald Trump claimed to have prevented a devastating blow of Erdogan against the Kurds in Syria. Turkey had been “in position” for the attack when he intervened with Erdogan. “He was about to wipe out the Kurds,” Trump said. “I said you can not do that, and he did not do it.”
Without naming a country, Erdogan countered: “Groups like the PKK and YPG, which are ethnic cleansing, recruiting minors, and forcing people to leave, are cherished and cared for by some of our allies.” There are “serious problems and contradictions” when the issue of combating terrorism in Syria, said the Turkish President in Osaka.
The Kurdish militia YPG controls a large area on the border with Turkey in northern Syria and is the United States’ most important ally in the fight against the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria. Turkey regards the YPG as an offshoot of the banned Kurdish workers’ party PKK and thus as a terrorist organization. The Turkish army has engaged in some serious battles with the Kurds in northern Syria.
Relations between the two NATO member states have been strained on several fronts, including Ankara’s plans to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems, the detention of US consular staff in Turkey, and the conflicting strategy on Syria and Iran.
The standoff threatens US sanctions that could hurt Turkey’s already crippled economy and raise questions about country’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).