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October 17, 2019

Erdogan refuses to meet Pence, Pompeo

Top Story

October 17, 2019

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he would not meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Ankara to discuss Turkey’s military operation in Syria.

"I am standing tall. I will not meet them," he told Sky News, referring to Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "They will meet their counterparts. I will speak when Trump comes," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria as US President Donald Trump dispatched his deputy Mike Pence to Ankara to demand a ceasefire.

Erdogan said that the only way to solve Syria’s problems was for the Kurdish forces to "lay down their arms... destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated."

Battles raged in the key Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Wednesday, with Kurdish fighters trying to hold off the onslaught by Turkish-backed forces, now in its second week.

The fighting has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers, with Trump dispatching Pence along with his top diplomat Mike Pompeo to Turkey amid the greatest crisis in relations for decades between the Nato allies.

Moscow has stepped in the void left by Trump´s withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, deploying patrols to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces. Russian TV showed its forces alongside Syrian troops taking up positions inand around the key town of Manbij following the US pull-back.

The Kremlin said it would host Erdogan for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days, to ensure the operation does not turn into all-out war between Turkey and Syria.

Trump -- facing mounting criticism in Washington over his decision to pull 1,000 troops out of the conflict zone, as well as an unrelated impeachment inquiry -- has hit back at Erdogan, slapping sanctions on three cabinet officials and raising tariffs on Turkish steel.

Pence´s office had earlier released a statement that he would meet Erdogan on Thursday and "voice the United States´ commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement".

He reiterated that Trump will pursue "punishing economic sanctions" until a resolution is reached. The operation has widespread support in Turkey, where decades of bloody insurgency by Kurdish militants has killed tens of thousands of people.

But Western powers are spooked that it will endanger the battle against the Islamic State group, which was led on the ground by Kurdish forces. Thousands of IS prisoners are held in Kurdish-run camps in the region.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have mounted a desperate defence to the east of Ras al-Ain, using tunnels, berms and trenches. The clashes around the town were ongoing on Wednesday despite Ankara´s repeated claims it had captured the area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish fighters had launched "a large counterattack against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies near Ras al-Ain" on Tuesday and reported "fierce combat" in the west of the town as well as in Tal Abyad.

Since launching their assault on October 9, Turkish-backed forces have secured more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of border, but Ras al-Ain -- Siri Kani in Kurdish -- has held out. "God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq," Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could no longer "keep track" of the tweets by his US counterpart Donald Trump as tensions mount over Ankara´s operation against Kurdish militants in Syria, in comments published Wednesday.

"When we take a look at Mr Trump´s Twitter posts, we can no longer follow them. We cannot keep track," Erdogan told Turkish journalists aboard a plane returning from Baku, in comments carried by the Hurriyet daily.

In one typically contradictory tweet, Trump announced: "Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with Nato member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!"

In his interview with the Turkish journalists, Erdogan also shared an anecdote from his telephone call with Trump this week. "I told Trump: ´You get very angry with the media from time to time. You are now under their influence. Don´t listen to them, you are a strong leader. This does not befit a strong leader´," he said, according to the Yeni Safak daily.