Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone call that he would stay away from the northern Syrian city of Kobani.
"I was part of a phone call yesterday between President Erdogan and President Trump where President Trump received a commitment from the President of Turkey to stay away from the Kobani area to prevent further escalation in Syria," Graham tweeted.
In the latest potential flashpoint, U.S. military aircraft carried out a "show of force" over the border city of Kobani after Turkish-backed fighters came close to American troops based there, a U.S. official said.
Pence also said Erdogan had promised to Trump by phone that Turkey would not attack Kobani, a strategically important border city with a particular symbolic resonance as the place where U.S. forces first came to the aid of Kurds fighting against Islamic State, which massacred Kurdish civilians there in 2014.
"Mr Trump's remark on Kobani was 'Don't strike there'," Erdogan told reporters late on Tuesday. "We said that we had only done an encircling operation there at the moment."
"We are not really interested with inside Kobani right now. But we said 'If there is a different development, we may intervene'," Erdogan said. However reports on Wednesday indicated that Turkish forces were advancing on the city.
Foreign Policy's Lara Segilman tweeted, "Senior US official confirms what Kurdish sources have been telling me - that Turkey is advancing on the border town of Kobani, which Erdogan promised Trump he would not attack."
Russian forces have crossed the Euphrates river in northern Syria and reached areas outside the city of Kobani, pushing eastward with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Observatory said on Wednesday.
The troop movement comes days after the SDF cut a deal with the Syrian government for army troops to deploy at the border following a Turkish invasion of northeast Syria last week.
Washington Post's White House correspondent Josh Dawsey later tweeted: "At one point during call, Erdogan complained about Graham to Trump without knowing Graham was in the room, per people briefed on call."
Graham often talks speaks with Turkish officials for negotiations on behalf of Trump. Earlier this week, it was reported in Politico that he had been prank called in August, by Russians Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, posing as Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. During the conversation, Graham reportedly described the Kurds as a "threat."
Following the phone call between Trump and Erdogan on Tuesday, Graham told reporters: “I do appreciate what the administration has done against Turkey through executive action, but more to follow.”
“I appreciate the phone calls yesterday with Erdogan, I think [Trump] reached out in a good way to let Turkey know they needed a cease-fire right now,” he added.
Erdogan also said Tuesday that he would press ahead with the offensive, following the abrupt decision by Trump to pull U.S. troops out of the Kurdish stronghold.
Speaking to reporters on a flight returning from Azerbaijan, Erdogan said: “They say ‘declare a cease-fire’. We will never declare a cease-fire…They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”
On Monday, Trump announced sanctions on aimed at restraining the Turkish operation. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are slated to meet with Erdogan in Ankara Thursday.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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