Donald Trump has been accused of undermining attempts to broker a ceasefire in Syria by claiming the Kurds are “safer” since Turkey’s military incursion.
In his latest remarks on the fighting, the US president again wiped his hands of responsibility, saying Turkey’s assault “has nothing to do with us”.
He also falsely claimed the Kurds “are much safer now” and stated that America’s former allies, who had fought alongside US troops, were “not angels”.
Mr Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria triggered Turkey’s moves against its southern neighbour in its bid to eradicate what it says are Kurdish “terrorists”.
The president’s comments appear to undermine peace talks as a high-profile US delegation rushed to Ankara to try and end the conflict.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are expecting to meet with President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday for emergency talks aimed at halting Turkey’s assault on northern Syria.
After earlier refusing to receive a US delegation that is visiting Ankara on Wednesday, Mr Erdogan has confirmed he will meet the visiting team led by Mr Pence on Thursday although he has also vowed to continue the offensive.
Earlier today, the President told @SkyNews that he won’t receive a U.S. delegation that is visiting Ankara today.
— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) October 16, 2019
One of Mr Trump’s closest Republican allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, slammed the US president’s remarks, saying they undercut diplomatic efforts to end the military offensive.
“I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkeys invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision.
“However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq,” Senator Graham tweeted.
“The statements by President Trump about Turkey’s invasion being of no concern to us also completely undercut Vice President Pence and Sec. Pompeo’s ability to end the conflict.”
Turkey’s assault, launched after a call between Mr Erdogan and Mr Trump, forced Washington to abandon a strategy in place for five years and pull its troops from northern Syria.
It has spawned a humanitarian crisis, with 160,000 civilians taking flight and a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails.
Mr Trump is facing a political maelstrom at home, accused by congressional leaders – including fellow Republicans – of betraying loyal US allies the Kurds.
Syrian government forces, backed by Washington’s adversaries Russia and Iran, have meanwhile taken advantage of the power vacuum left by retreating US troops to advance swiftly into the largest swath of territory previously outside their grasp.
Mr Trump played down the crisis on Wednesday, saying the conflict was between Turkey and Syria and that it was “fine” for Russia to help its ally Damascus.
Sanctioning Turkey would be better than fighting in the region, he said.
Washington announced sanctions to punish Turkey on Monday, but Mr Trump’s critics said the steps, mainly a steel tariffs hike and a pause in trade talks, were too feeble to have an impact.
A spokesman for Mr Erdogan said Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing retaliatory sanctions.