By THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF
Mr. Trump’s tweets threatened to upend negotiations between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
WASHINGTON — President Trump threatened Turkey on Sunday with harsh economic sanctions if it attacks Kurdish forces in Syria after American troops withdraw from the country in the coming months.
“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, suggesting that there would be a 20-mile safe zone around the group after American forces leave. He added, “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”
Mr. Trump’s tweets marked the first public threat toward Turkey, a NATO ally, over the Kurds and seemed to offer a blanket of protection for the group, a band of American-backed militias that the Turkish government sees as terrorists.
Mr. Trump’s announced pullout from Syria without guaranteeing safety for the Kurds, who have helped American forces fight the Islamic State, had received sharp criticism from lawmakers. But his tweets Sunday threatened to upend Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to reach a deal with Turkey to protect them, something Mr. Pompeo had been optimistic about when talking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, earlier Sunday.
After speaking with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Mr. Pompeo had said he was “optimistic that we can achieve a good outcome,” though details were being worked out.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, reiterated in a response to Mr. Trump’s tweets that Turkey considered the Kurdish fighters terrorists. “Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” he wrote.
Turkey, which has said it is planning an assault on Islamic State and Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, contends that the Kurdish fighters in Syria are part of a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.