In an extraordinary letter sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, President Donald Trump warned that he could destroy Turkey’s economy if the situation in Syria is not contained and resolved in a humane way, CNN has confirmed.
The tone of the letter is consistent with Trump’s unconventional approach to diplomacy, particularly when dealing with strongman leaders, as he tells Erdogan: “Let’s work out a good deal” and “Don’t be a fool!”
But it’s striking to see a US President use such language. Trump also warned his Turkish counterpart not to “be a tough guy!”
The letter is dated October 9 – three days after the two leaders had spoken by phone – the same day the Turkish incursion into Syria began, a detail that raises more questions about what Trump said the Erdogan as compared to the contents of his written correspondence.
“Don’t let the world down,” Trump wrote, adding that the Kurds are willing to negotiate and willing to “make concessions that they never would have made in the past.”
Trump ends by saying, “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.” He warns that history will look at Erdogan “forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.”
The letter was first reported by Fox Business.
Trump’s letter is dated just days after he had spoken to Erdogan by phone on October 6. That conversation was followed by an announcement from the White House that Turkey would soon begin a military offensive and US forces would not be involved in the operation.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” a White House statement said at the time. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
US pulling out troops from Syria
A week after the call, on Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that Trump had ordered the remaining US troops out of northern Syria.
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing, advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation. I spoke with the President last night, after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Which is where most of our forces are.”
On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting details related to Trump’s October 6 call with Erdogan, comparing it to revelations about the President’s July 25 conversation with the President of Ukraine, which has become the centerpiece of the House impeachment inquiry.
“It is imperative that Congress and the American people understand what President Trump said on his call with President Erdoğan,” wrote Menendez, citing the secretary’s contradictory descriptions and asking whether he or any other State Department official had been on the line. “As we have now seen from President Trump’s July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, President Trump is not above putting his own personal interests before U.S. national security interests and you are willing to play along with his betrayal of office and country.”
Trump said Wednesday that Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria “has nothing to do with us” and added that former US allies – the Kurds – are “not angels.”
He also falsely claimed that the Kurds “are much safer now,” despite his recent decision to pull US forces out of northern Syria, where the US had been fighting alongside the Kurds.
“Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer now. The Kurds know how to fight and as I said, they’re not angels,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
“But they fought with us. We paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK. They did well when they fought with us. They didn’t do so well when they didn’t fight with us,” he added.
CNN’s Jake Tapper contributed to this report.