February 26, 2019 / 8:38 PM / 4 months ago

Turkey's Erdogan does not believe United States will retrieve arms from Kurdish groups

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he does not believe the United States will take back weapons from Kurdish militias in Syria.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, Erdogan stressed the need for the United States to take back weapons from Kurdish groups in Manbij.

Earlier this month, a senior U.S. Army general said the United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

In December, President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring that Islamic State had been defeated there.

Turkey has long stressed the importance of the United States retrieving the weapons Washington has given the YPG, the United States’ main partner against Islamic State in Syria, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

“The generals with him said that they have the serial numbers, and they will collect the weapons when all is done. I do not find this sincere,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.

“If this withdrawal becomes a stalling method, our approach will be different,” he said, adding that 200 to 400 soldiers may stay, and 500 may stay from other U.S.-led coalition forces.

Last week, the United States said it would leave a small peacekeeping group of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout. A commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State, and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to withdraw was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

“What is important to us is that Turkey will control the secure zone,” Erdogan said on Tuesday. “We cannot leave the control to neither Germany nor France or America. I clearly told this to them.”

Erdogan said he might meet with White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, in Turkey on Wednesday alongside Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, and the meetings would cover economic and regional issues.

Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Sarah Dadouch; editing by Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis

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