President Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the U.S. would stop arming Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey's foreign minister said Friday, ending a policy that had inflamed tensions between the two nations.
Trump and Erdogan spoke by telephone after a summit on Syria that took place this week in Sochi, Russia, attended by Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That gathering focused on discussions for a Syria peace settlement. Putin's plan, which largely excludes the U.S., got a boost Friday when Syria's opposition agreed to form a single bloc to negotiate with President Bashar Assad.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a news conference that Trump said weapons would no longer be given to the Syrian Kurdish group, the People's Protection Units. Cavusoglu said Trump called the arming of the Kurds ridiculous.
"Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won't be given arms and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago," Cavusoglu said, using an acronym to refer to the People's Protection Units.
The Kurds received U.S. backing as the most effective local proxies against Islamic State in Syria. But the policy of arming them, which began under former President Barack Obama, has been a point of tension with America's NATO ally.
Turkey considers the People's Protection Units a terrorist organization because of its link to Kurdish rebels in Turkey and has been requesting that the U.S. take the weapons back now that the fight against Islamic State is winding down. Erdogan has also threatened military action against the Syrian Kurds, who control about a fifth of the war-ravaged country's territory.
The United States has been arming the Kurds through an umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is comprised of Kurdish as well as Arab fighters. But the retreat of the Islamic State, which has lost nearly all its territory in Syria, has altered the dynamics in the region.
As the fight against the extremists has waned, the U.S. has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons it provides the Kurds, notably ensuring that they don't wind up in the hands of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
There was no immediate reaction from the United States. But Turkey's announcement appeared to catch the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department off guard. Officials at both agencies, who would normally be informed of changes in U.S. policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any changes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Friday's announcement from the Turkish foreign minister -- if confirmed by the U.S. -- would mark the latest blow to the Kurds. In both Syria and Iraq, the Kurds' fight against the Islamic State has yet to lead to a realization of the Kurds' broader aspirations, most notably an independent state.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week that American forces will maintain a presence in Syria even as the jihadist threat diminishes.
"We're not going to just walk away right now," he said, citing the need to ensure progress toward a viable peace. The Russia-Iran-Turkey bloc has called for U.S. troops to go home.
Trump spoke with Putin earlier this week to discuss the situation in Syria, shortly after Putin met with Assad in Sochi. Russia and Iran are Assad's main allies, while Turkey has backed armed groups seeking to overthrow him. The three powers, who've joined forces in cease-fire efforts in Syria, are the dominant players now, though differences remain between them.
While the Obama administration had demanded the Syrian leader step down, Trump now says Assad's departure isn't a precondition for peace talks, even if it sees no political future for him.
"Will be speaking to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey this morning about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East," Trump said on Twitter before the call. "I will get it all done, but what a mistake, in lives and dollars (6 trillion), to be there in the first place!"
Information for this article was contributed by Toluse Olorunnipa, Margaret Talev, Henry Meyer and Benjamin Harvey of Bloomberg News and by Jill Colvin, Suzan Fraser, Josh Lederman and Robert Burns of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/25/2017
Print Headline: Turkey: Trump won't arm kurds