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Turkey says that France could become a target for the support of the Syrian Kurds



ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey declared Friday that a French pledge to stabilize a Kurdish-dominated region in northern Syria is a source of support for terrorism and could make France a "destination for Turkey."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on March 30, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Presidential Palace / Handout via REUTERS

French support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG Militia angered Ankara when it fights the YPG in northern Syria and considers it a terrorist organization.

President Tayyip Erdogan said that France has taken "a completely wrong approach" to Syria, adding that last week he exchanged heated words with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

The split with France is the latest break between Turkey under Erdogan and his NATO allies in the west.

Turkey has long complained about US support for the SDF, partly because of tensions with NATO's leading power. Last year, he compared the German and Dutch authorities with the Nazis to restrict pro-Erdogan demonstrations during a campaign for a referendum that gave him greater powers.

The White House said President Donald Trump, who added new insecurity on Thursday when he said that the United States would soon "get out of Syria," said Friday with Erdogan, "about regional developments and the strategic partnership discuss the United States and Turkey ".

"The two leaders expressed their support for continued efforts to strengthen cooperation between their two countries, to promote common interests as NATO allies, and to address issues that affect bilateral relations," a statement said White House.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the French stance puts Paris on a collision course with Ankara.

"Those who cooperate with terrorist groups against Turkey and solidarize with them … are becoming, like terrorists, a target for Turkey," wrote Bozdag, who is also the spokesman for the Turkish government, on Twitter. "We hope that France will not take such an irrational step."

Macron met with an SDF delegation on Thursday, assuring France would support the stabilization of northern Syria. A presidential candidate later said that France could increase its military contribution to the US-led coalition, which ̵

1; in addition to the SDF – is fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

The United States has 2,000 troops in the SDF-held area, and France also has some troops there as part of the coalition.

Ankara sees the YPG fighters in the SDF as an extension of the Kurdish fighters who have led a decade-long uprising in southeastern Turkey.

Nearly two weeks ago, Turkish troops drove the YPG out of the northwest Syrian city of Afrin. Erdogan says that Ankara is preparing to expand operations along a hundred-mile-long border, including areas where US forces are stationed.

The Afrin operation has already caused international criticism, especially from Macron. Ankara has meanwhile stated that it expects its allies to withdraw their troops from a Turkish advance.

"We have no intention of harming soldiers of allied nations, but we can not allow terrorists to roam free (in northern Syria)," Erdogan said.

A US service worker and another member of the US-led coalition were killed overnight by a bomb in Syria, the first to be killed in an attack that year.

TRUMP SURPRISE

Trump's statement Thursday that the United States "would come out of Syria" seemed to surprise his own government.

U.S. Officials have said in recent months that Washington plans to maintain an open presence in northern Syria to support stability in the SDF-controlled region, prevent any re-emergence of the Islamic state, and counter Iranian influence.

SDF spokesman Cinema Gabriel said the force had not been informed about a US withdrawal plan.

"Our work and coordination (with the coalition) continues," said Gabriel Reuters in a written message.

Asked whether US forces have been advised or prepared to retreat, a coalition spokesman said he would not comment on future operations.

A PYD member in Paris said that Macron promised at a meeting with the SDF on Thursday that he would send more troops to northern Syria, provide humanitarian assistance, and push for a diplomatic solution.

The French Presidency failed to confirm that Macron had pledged more troops, but the source of the president said France could support its military intervention in Syria "within the existing framework" of the US-led coalition.

The presidency also said that Macron had offered to mediate between Turkey and the SDF – a proposal Erdoğan rejected.

"Do not worry about things that go beyond you, we do not need an intermediary," he said, responding to the French offer in remarks to members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara. "Who should talk about mediation between Turkey and a terrorist organization?"

Accusing Paris of appeasing terrorism, he said Macron would be held responsible by his own people for his policies.

"We hope that France will not ask us for help if the terrorists from Syria and Iraq fill their land after they have been encouraged by their policies," he said.

Erdogan spoke with Macron last week about the French president's criticism of the Turkish Afrin campaign.

"He said weird things and so, even though it was a bit high grade, I had to tell him a lot," Erdogan said. "It's nobody's place to portray our forces as something we do not find acceptable."

Additional coverage of John Iren and Marine Pennetier in Paris, Tom Perry of Beirut, Maher Chmaytelli of Baghdad, and David Brunnstrom of Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans; Arrangement by Peter Graff and Susan Thomas


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