President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE spoke Monday with Turkey’s president a day after threatening to “devastate Turkey economically” if it attacks the Kurds in Syria.
Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “discussed several bilateral issues, including ongoing cooperation in Syria as U.S. forces begin to withdraw, and other topics for future cooperation,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
“The president expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will meet with his Turkish counterpart Tuesday to continue the discussion, Sanders added.
Trump later tweeted about the call, saying he had also spoken to Erdogan about "economic development between the U.S. and Turkey."
Spoke w/ President Erdogan of Turkey to advise where we stand on all matters including our last two weeks of success in fighting the remnants of ISIS, and 20 mile safe zone. Also spoke about economic development between the U.S. & Turkey - great potential to substantially expand!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2019
The Trump-Erdoğan call comes a day after Trump tweeted about the beginnings of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, which started Friday with the removal of some equipment.
“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
“Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” he added in a second tweet.
Trump did not elaborate on what he meant by “devastate Turkey economically,” but it has been seen as a sanctions threat.
Asked Monday what Trump meant, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe The CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll MORE told reporters “you’ll have to ask him.”
“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things. You’ll have to ask him,” Pompeo said in Riyadh.
Protection for U.S.-backed Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been a key question since Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from Syria last month.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish forces terrorists connected to Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey and has threatened to attack them.
But the United States considers them the best force fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria, and those who oppose a U.S. withdrawal have argued it amounts to a betrayal of the Kurds.
National security adviser John Bolton said last weekend that a deal with Turkey for the protection of the Kurds is a condition of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
After he said that, Erdoğan stood Bolton up for a planned meeting in Turkey. The same day, Erdoğan gave a speech to members of his party in parliament in which he said Bolton made a "serious mistake.”