Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meet in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, United States on November 13, 2019.
Halil Sagirkaya | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he believes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has “a great relationship with the Kurds,” less than a month after Turkey agreed to halt its attacks against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said, gesturing to Erdogan during a joint press conference at the White House.
“Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy and taken care of,” Trump added, “including health care and education and other things.”
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the president’s remarks.
Turkey had launched an offensive in northern Syria against the Kurds — who had been fighting ISIS on the ground with the U.S.’ backing — after Trump, in early October, told Erdogan he would pull American troops out of the region.
Critics on both sides of the aisle accused Trump of giving Turkey a green light to attack U.S. allies and appearing to contradict the prevailing U.S. foreign policy at the time.
The White House said at the time that Turkey would assume responsibility for the captured ISIS fighters who were being held in the area. But Turkey was immediately accused of intervening in Syria in order to attack the Kurds there.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, is militarily led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a group Turkey calls a terrorist organization and a security threat on its southern border. The Turks emphasize the YPG’s ties to a separatist Kurdish group, called the PKK, which has carried out a decades-long campaign of insurgent violence against the Turkish state.
Trump’s comments at the press conference Wednesday afternoon came in response to a question about his policies toward the Kurds.
“I will say that we’ve had a great relationship with the Kurds, and we fought with them very successfully against ISIS,” Trump said. “And by the way, I think the president, he may have some factions within the Kurds, but I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds.”
Asked why he was not able to form negotiations with the Kurds in Syria, Erdogan said, “We have no problems with the Kurds. We have problems with terrorist organizations,” according to a translation of his answer provided by Fox Business Network.
As evidence, the Turkish leader added that his “political party has more than 50 MPs (members of parliament) of Kurdish ethnicity in the Turkish parliament.”
“We’re just fighting the terrorists,” he said. “If you don’t fight back, then tomorrow you will have to pay a very hefty price.”