ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey on Saturday criticised the United States for sending what it said were mixed messages on Syria, saying Washington was sowing confusion by equivocating about its future role in the country.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman also told reporters that Turkey was talking to Russia about the Syrian town of Tel Rifaat and would not need to intervene in the area given Moscow’s assurances that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia was not present there.
“The president of the United States says ‘We’re going to get out of Syria very soon’ and then others say, ‘No, we are staying’,” Ibrahim Kalin said, referring to recent comments from Donald Trump and other officials.
“Obviously it does create a lot of confusion on the ground, as well as for us. We would like to see some clarity, for them to decide what is the next step, what is the ultimate goal there.”
Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer to defeat Islamic State, but he wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
He said in a speech last month that he wanted an early exit of U.S. troops from Syria, a position that was seen as at odds with that of many other Washington officials.
Differences over Syria policy have strained relations between the United States and fellow NATO member Turkey. Washington has backed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and in January launched a military operation in northern Syria’s Afrin region to drive out the YPG.
Turkey says it has an “understanding” with the United States about stabilising the town of Manbij and other Kurdish-controlled areas further east of Afrin. However, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to push east if YPG forces do not leave the area around Manbij and go east of the Euphrates river.
The United States has troops stationed near Manbij, raising the possibility of a potential clash with Turkish forces.
“We’d like to see concrete action on the ground” from the Americans on Manbij, Kalin said.
He also said intervention by Turkey would not be necessary in Tel Rifaat, since there was no YPG presence there now.
“At the moment, for Tel Rifaat we are talking to the Russians, and they have assured us the ... YPG is not there,” he said.
“If that’s the case, we are OK with that.”
Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Dale Hudson