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Erdogan hits back after Trump praises Kurdish militia leader

U.S. President Donald Trump and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan are pictured during the opening ceremony of the summit of the NATO military alliance, Wednesday July 11, 2018, in Brussels, Belgium. (Abaca Press/TNS)

 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Donald Trump to “hand over” the leader of a Kurdish militia who’s been invited to the U.S. by senators, calling the commander and his fighters terrorists.

Hours after Trump said in a tweet that he had “really enjoyed” talking to Mazloum Abdi, the assumed name of the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Erdogan hit back at the U.S. for giving an audience to a wanted criminal in an allied state.

“He is a terrorist with the code name Mazloum,” Erdogan told state broadcaster TRT late on Thursday. “America needs to hand over this man to us.”

While the U.S. backed the SDF as a key component of the fight with Islamic State jihadists, Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be a major threat due to their ties to banned separatists fighting for a homeland on Turkish soil.

Trump received widespread criticism at home and abroad for his Oct. 6 decision to order U.S. troops in northern Syria to stand aside from a Turkish military offensive targeting the Kurds. He has since claimed credit for a cease-fire and sought to portray the Kurds as grateful for his intervention.

The president said Wednesday that he’s looking forward to “seeing” Abdi soon, without saying where and how they could meet.

Abdi’s wanted by Turkey for his time with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 and is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.

His real name in Ferhat Sahin Abdi, according to an Interpol red notice that’s based on a warrant issued by Turkey. Such notices are considered valid only in some countries, and Interpol cannot demand arrests.

Turkey has asked American authorities to arrest and hand over Abdi, if he enters the U.S., under a standing agreement on the extradition of criminals, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul told reporters near the Syrian border on Friday.

Differences between the U.S. and Turkey over the Syrian Kurds have been a major strain on the bilateral relationship for years. Their six-decade alliance has also been damaged by Washington’s refusal to extradite a Turkish cleric whom Erdogan accuses of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup, and the U.S. indictment of Turkish lender Halkbank for its alleged role in a plot to circumvent sanctions against Iran, among other issues.

Although the U.S. military is now winding down its logistical support to the SDF, Congress is keeping the relationship alive. A bipartisan group of senators have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to help secure a visa for Abdi to visit the U.S. and discuss the way forward in Syria.

Erdogan said he’ll bring up Abdi at his meeting with Trump in Washington scheduled for Nov. 13

Read more about the letter where Trump warns Erdogan Not to be ‘Tough Guy’

The Turkish leader said he’d take with him to the White House a controversial letter Trump had sent just three days after announcing his U-turn on the U.S. presence in northern Syria.

In it, Trump told Erdogan not to be a “tough guy” or a “fool” by sending in troops, and instead negotiate with the Kurds. He attached a note from Abdi in which the SDF chief offered to make concessions to Turkey. The Turkish military began its offensive the next day.

“It was quite inappropriate to attach the letter from a terrorist to his cover letter,” Erdogan said of Trump.


© 2019 Bloomberg News

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