US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and his wife Susan disembark from their plane as they arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport in Abu Dhabi, January 11, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP / POOL
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Saturday he is “optimistic” America’s Syrian Kurdish allies can be protected while also allowing Turkey to “defend their country from terrorists” when the US withdraws its troops from northern Syria.
Pompeo, who is in the UAE capital on the fourth leg of his Middle East tour, made the comments following a phone call with Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“We recognize the Turkish people’s right and President Erdogan’s right to defend their country from terrorists and we also know that those who aren’t terrorists, those who were fighting alongside us all this time, deserve to be protected and we are confident that we can achieve an outcome that achieves both of those: protect the Turks from legitimate terror threats and prevent any substantial risks to folks who don’t present terror risks to Turkey,” Pompeo said.
“We had this conversation, many details still to be worked out but I am optimistic we can achieve a good outcome.”
Cavusoglu welcomed Pompeo's words in a speech in the southern Turkish province of Antalya on Saturday.
“We find correct his statement about the removal of the elements that concern Turkey,” Cavusoglu said, AFP reports.
“We will do whatever needed to clear terror across our border. Nobody should doubt about it.”
Pompeo is currently touring the Middle East to drum up support for America’s anti-Iran campaign and reassuring regional allies about its policy in Syria.
US President Donald Trump announced in December the imminent withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops stationed in northern Syria, where they have been supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS.
Reports indicate US forces have already begun withdrawing equipment – but troops remain in place.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which makes up the backbone of the SDF, fears Turkey will attack them once US forces withdraw.
Ankara has repeatedly said it intends to march east of the Euphrates River and crush the YPG, which it views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a Kurdish militia fighting for greater cultural and political rights in Turkey.
Last updated 9.54 pm