Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed on Tuesday US national security adviser John Bolton’s recent comments on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a “grave mistake.”
Erdogan's comments came shortly after Bolton held more than two hours of talks in the Turkish capital with Erdogan's adviser Ibrahim Kalin, in a key meeting focusing on the surprise US decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.
US President Donald Trump caused a political storm last month when he announced the troop pullout because the battle against the ISIS terrorist group had been won.
Bolton said Sunday in Israel the retreat was also conditional on the safety of US-backed Kurdish fighters, considered terrorists by Turkey.
"It is not possible to accept or swallow the message given by Bolton from Israel," Erdogan told his party's lawmakers in parliament.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also drew wrath of the Turkish leadership when he said Washington will ensure Ankara does not "slaughter" Kurds in Syria as American troops withdraw.
Erdogan lambasted the remarks Tuesday and said: "That Turkey targets the Kurds is the most vile, the most dishonorable, the ugliest and the cheapest slander."
Criticizing US comments that Ankara must agree to Washington’s Kurdish allies, he said the YPG fight with ISIS in Syria was "a huge lie."
Erdogan said Turkey would confront the YPG in the same way that it will take on ISIS.
"If they are terrorists, we will do what is necessary no matter where they come from," he added. “It is not possible for us to make compromises on this point."
Turkey had reached a clear understanding with Trump over the withdrawal plans, but "different voices have started emerging from different segments of the administration," Erdogan said.
A senior Turkish official said Bolton had asked to see Erdogan, and that his earlier remarks may have been a factor in the meeting not going ahead. Erdogan later told reporters there was no need for him to meet Bolton, reported Reuters.
US officials denied that Bolton felt snubbed. “The US Embassy in Turkey requested a series of meetings, but due to scheduling conflicts, one with President Erdogan was never confirmed,” said Garrett Marquis, Bolton’s spokesman.
He said the US official had held “productive” talks with Kalin on how the withdrawal would take place.
"They had a productive discussion of the president's decision to withdraw at a proper pace from northeast Syria, identified further issues for dialogue," Marquis said on Twitter after the meeting.
Joining Bolton were General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the anti-ISIS group envoy James Jeffrey.
When Trump first announced the pullout of 2,000 ground troops on December 19, Ankara was a lonely voice among NATO allies welcoming the decision.
Erdogan has promised Trump that Turkey could finish off the remnants of ISIS in Syria.
"A military victory against the terrorist group is a mere first step," he said in the New York Times, warning against premature declarations of victory.
Trump said Monday the fight against ISIS was not over.
"We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!" he tweeted.
The US had been working closely with the YPG under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
But US-Turkey relations have been especially rocky over American military support to the YPG.
Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The PKK is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
And Erdogan's comments on Tuesday showed disagreements still existed over the future of the YPG.
"Those who are in the terror corridor in Syria will learn necessary lessons," he said. "To us, there is no little difference between the YPG and the PKK."
Last month, Erdogan threatened to launch a cross-border operation against the YPG, east of the Euphrates River, which he said later would be delayed after Trump's order.
But Turkey has sent military convoys to its border with Syria and inside the war-ravaged country.
On Tuesday, Erdogan said that preparations have been complete for the Syria operation.