US stands behind White House statement on Erdoğan-Trump phone call

Despite denials from Ankara, the US State Department on Thursday stood behind a readout released by the White House on Wednesday of a phone call between Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump.

When a reporter at Thursday’s daily press briefing pointed out “deep differences” between the White House version of the phone conversation and that of Turkish officials, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that “It doesn’t surprise me. I think the president was clear. I think the president [Trump] was tough with President Erdoğan.”

“We stand by — when I say ‘we,’ at this point, I say on behalf of the State Department and also the White House  — we stand by that statement. We stand by the readout and the contents of that call,” she added.

“President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria. He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees. He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces,” said the White House readout.

“President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey,” the White House added.

But Ankara denied the content of the White House readout.

“I think the statement was prepared by the United States before the telephone conversation took place,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday.

“Hence, it did not fully reflect the truth.”

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Thursday said if the US does not want a confrontation with Turkey, it should stop arming terrorist organizations.

Bozdağ called on the US to stop arming the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which it sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“I think that’s exactly why the president and the secretary urges [sic] Turkey to de-escalate and make sure they’re not coming into contact with US and other coalition forces. I think the secretary and the president have been very clear with President Erdoğan and with the secretary’s counterpart about that matter,” Nauert said when a journalist asked if the US was concerned about a possible conflict around Manbij between US and Turkish troops.

Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on the government to release the full content of the phone call between Erdoğan and Trump.

“The best solution is to release all phone calls as voice recordings. Hence, the facts will be revealed,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Turkey has the right to self-defense like all other countries as Turkey continues targeting People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions in northern Syria. Speaking at a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid on Thursday, Stoltenberg said that “Turkey suffered most from terrorist attacks over many years.”

“And Turkey, as all countries, has the right to self-defense,” he said. Stoltenberg stressed that this needed to be done “in a proportionate and measured way.”

“That is the message I convey every time I discuss this issue with different NATO leaders including the political leadership in Turkey,” he added. Stoltenberg recalled his phone conversation with Turkish President Erdoğan last week and urged for “direct contacts” between Turkey and the US to find the best way to address the challenges in northern Syria.

On Friday, Turkish Health Minister Ahmet Demircan said that some 130 people, who were injured during Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch,” launched against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria’s Afrin, have been brought to Turkey for treatment since the offensive began.

Speaking during a visit to wounded persons in the Gülhane Training and Research Hospital in İstanbul, Demircan also said three Turkish soldiers and 11 Free Syria Army (FSA) fighters, Turkey’s allies on the ground, were killed during the operation. Some 82 of the 130 wounded have been discharged from the hospital.

Meanwhile, pro-PKK news sources have reported that Turkish warplanes bombed Mabata district center on Friday morning and one of the bombs hit a family house and killed seven civilians from the same family. It was claimed that Turkish military bombardments on Afrin have killed more than 50 civilians since the start of operation seven days ago.

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region against People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions, a component of the PYD, considered by authorities in Ankara to be an extension of the PKK, which has waged a decades-long war against the Turkish state. (SCF with

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