Trump: I Did Not Green-Light Turkish Incursion Into Syria
By Steve Herman October 16, 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump forcefully rejected allegations Wednesday that he was responsible for Turkey's invasion of northeast Syria.
"I didn't give him a green light," Trump said at a news conference.
He was responding to a reporter's question about whether his interactions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cleared the way for the military offensive against the Kurds.
Trump called the question deceptive. Republican and Democratic lawmakers accused the president of clearing the way for the Turkish military operation. But Trump said, "I'm not going to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria."
Turkey's offensive, however, "didn't surprise me," said Trump of the action, which has quickly tilted the balance of power in northeast Syria, and prompted Russia, Turkey and Iran to fill a sudden vacuum left when he ordered U.S. forces out of the region.
Trump told reporters he had no regrets about having 26 to 28 U.S. military personnel inside Syria stand aside as the Turks moved across the border. Imposing sanctions on Turkey is preferable to having U.S. military personnel in the region involved in the fighting, according to Trump.
The president Wednesday also termed the Kurds, who were the Pentagon's allies in the battle against Islamic State terrorists, "no angels" themselves.
Trump said, the Kurdish PKK "is worse of a terrorist threat than ISIS."
At the news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump expressed deep concern about the Turkish offensive, noting the large number of civilian victims and warning it could lead to a resurgence of ISIS.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a resolution opposing Trump's decision to end U.S. operations in Syria, calling on Erdogan to immediately cease military action and for the United States to continue supporting the Kurds.
It urges the White House to "present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS." Many of Trump's fellow Republicans voted for it.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a usually reliable Trump ally, bluntly criticized the president's latest comments about the region.
"I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will re-emerge, & Iran's rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel. I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking," Graham said on Twitter.
Graham, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump's words "completely undercut" efforts by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Trump sent to Turkey to press for a halt to the invasion.
Officials in Ankara said Erdogan planned to meet with Pence and Pompeo on Thursday. The Turkish comments followed an earlier remark by Erdogan to Sky News that Pence and Pompeo would be meeting only their Turkish counterparts and that Erdogan himself would meet only with Trump if he came to Turkey.
Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House on Nov. 13. But he said whether that trip would occur would depend on the outcome of the discussions this week in Ankara with Pence and Pompeo.
Pence plans to voice the U.S.'s commitment "to reach an immediate cease-fire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement," according to a White House statement.
Trump has already hiked tariffs on Turkish steel imports and called off negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.
Trump on Wednesday also addressed concerns regarding the approximately 50 tactical nuclear weapons stored at a U.S. base in Turkey.
The president's response was that he was confident those weapons were secure.
"We have a great air base there," said Trump. "It's a large, powerful air base."
Meanwhile, U.S. military jets carried out what the Pentagon said was a "show of force" in Syria.
A U.S. official told VOA that forces carried out an airstrike on the Lafarge cement factory near Kobani. U.S. forces and the Kurds had used the factory as a headquarters in their fight against IS.
The official said the factory was blown up to prevent "outside forces," specifically Russia and Syria, from using it.
VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb and VOA's Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.
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