Speaking to journalists traveling on his presidential plane following a visit to Azerbaijan Tuesday, Erdogan said a ceasefire was off the table. “Declare a ceasefire, they say. We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan said. “We do not sit at the table with terrorist organizations.”
Erdogan’s comments come as Russian-backed Syrian regime troops on Tuesday gained control of the town of Manbij and surrounding areas, until recently an active US military outpost.
Russia has stepped up its role in the Syrian conflict by deploying military police to the country’s north — filling a vacuum left by the withdrawal of US troops from the area.
Russian units are patrolling a contact line between Syrian and Turkish forces, according to a statement by Russia’s Defense Ministry. On Tuesday, Russia’s presidential envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told state news agency TASS that Moscow “won’t allow” clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces on the ground.
After Turkey launched a long-threatened offensive across the border into Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria last week, local Syrian Kurdish leaders struck a deal with Syria’s government in Damascus to enforce the border.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who operate in the area are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization affiliated with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The SDF, however, are US allies that were considered instrumental in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria.
Turkey’s offensive, called the Peace Spring Operation, is aimed at clearing Kurdish forces away from its border area and resettling 2 million Syrian refugees currently hosted in Turkey into a 30 kilometer (18.6 mile) “safe zone” along the border.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it was dispatching Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien as part of a delegation departing to Ankara Wednesday, to broker a deal to stop the Turkish military operation in Syria.
The delegation’s planned departure comes after President Donald Trump announced sanctions against Turkey and threatened to “destroy” the country’s economy if it does not halt its incursion.
On Monday, Trump tweeted a statement saying he would soon authorize via executive order new sanctions on current and former Turkish officials. He said he’d also reimpose heavy duties on Turkish steel and cut off trade talks.
It marks an attempt by the White House to adopt a firmer stance after facing harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers and senior national security veterans for withdrawing US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s military offensive.
But Erdogan told reporters onboard the presidential plane Tuesday that his government is “not worried” about any US sanctions.
“They are pressuring us to stop the operation (in northern Syria). They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions,” he said.