Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he arrives this week to discuss the military offensive in Syria.
Pence will lead a delegation that includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and special representative for Syria James Jeffrey. The officials will discuss the ongoing military incursion into northeast Syria, which the Trump administration has condemned.
President Donald Trump talked with Erdogan on the phone last week and the two agreed that U.S. troops would leave northeast Syria. But the situation quickly deteriorated, prompting Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey and demand a cease-fire.
“I’m not going to talk to them. They will be talking to their counterparts,” Erdogan told Sky News. “When Trump comes here, I’ll be talking.”
Erdogan has also refused calls for a cease-fire in Syria, where his forces are targeting Kurdish fighters along the border to clear a swath of land to repatriate Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The Kurdish fighters, whom Ankara considers terrorists, have partnered with Syrian government troops and Russian soldiers are patrolling areas formerly covered by the U.S. military.
Erdogan, who said the plan is to establish a “safe zone” along the 260-mile border, is adamant he will not negotiate with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a group formerly backed in Syria by U.S. troops.
“They say ‘declare a cease-fire.’ We will never declare a cease-fire,” the Turkish leader told reporters. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said they have neutralized 637 terrorists since launching Operation Peace Spring, meaning that were killed, captured or surrendered.
Pence said he will leave for Turkey on Wednesday. Trump, who has sanctioned Turkey as a punitive measure for the incursion, has threatened more if Ankara doesn’t change course.
Trump ordered U.S. troops out of Syria last week in a move critics say opened the door for Turkey’s long anticipated invasion.
“We want to bring our soldiers back home after so many years, and they’re the greatest warriors in the world,” he said. “They’re policing. They’re not a police force.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday echoed a chorus of bipartisan concerns about the president’s decision to withdraw troops.
“Leaving the field now would mean leaving the door wide open for a resurgence of this dangerous force and a new iteration of the Islamic States, creating a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia — leaving northeastern Syria wide open for Iran to extend its reach unimpeded all the way from Tehran to the doorstep of our friends in Israel,” the Kentucky Republican said.