Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are teaming up to stop Russian-backed attacks on Syria’s last rebel stronghold after Turkey rejected a proposal by Moscow to relocate its troops in Idlib.
“We are working together on seeing what can be done,” the US president said at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday, according to C-SPAN. “You have a lot of warring going on right now.”
Only hours earlier, Turkey refused a plan outlined by Russia that included a map with a proposed relocation of Turkish troops in Syria’s opposition-controlled Idlib province. Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, said two days of talks in Moscow yielded “no satisfactory result.”
“It’s out of the question to change the location of Turkish observation points,” Kalin said, referring to Turkish military outposts that have the task of monitoring a cease-fire in Idlib under a deal with Russia and Iran. “We will keep reinforcing the area. There’s no doubt that Turkey will respond to attacks in Idlib in the strongest way.”
The standoff between the two regional powerbrokers is threatening a rupture in their uneasy relationship and prompting Turkey to reboot ties with the US after years of tensions. Erdogan has threatened to use force before the end of February if Syrian forces don’t withdraw from the vicinity of four Turkish military outposts or stage a new attack on Turkish forces who suffered 14 dead earlier this month.
Trump called Erdogan a “tough guy” who doesn’t want people to be killed in great numbers, adding that he has a “a good relationship” with Erdogan.
Turkey has started a mass deployment of tanks, commandos and armored personnel carriers in Idlib to stop the advance of Syrian forces. The offensive triggered an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people in cold weather toward neighboring Turkey, which already hosts the largest number of refugees in the world.
Turkey has now sealed off the entire Syrian border with high cement walls and is building houses within Syria to shelter new refugees beyond its border. Towns and displacement camps west of Aleppo were hit by shelling in recent days, and roads are packed with vehicles, according to disaster-relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres.
“The people fleeing north are being squeezed into a territory that is getting smaller and smaller” between the front line to the east and the closed Turkish border to the west, Julien Delozanne, MSF head of mission for Syria, said Tuesday in an emailed statement. A new influx of people to the area will make the already harsh living conditions in the camps “even worse” he said.
“Attacks are now taking place in areas that were previously considered to be safe,” Delozanne said.