US President Donald Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron. AP file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron held a phone conversation on Tuesday, in which the US leader stressed the need to intensify cooperation with Turkey in addressing shared strategic challenges in Syria.
According to a statement from the White House, the leaders both expressed support for the West’s strong response to Russia’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Salisbury, UK, and the expulsion of Russian diplomats and intelligence staff.
They also discussed trade between the US and EU, and plans to challenge China on its trade practices.
US-Turkey relations have been strained further in recent months since Ankara demanded the US facilitate the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij and the middle-Euphrates valley.
The YPG – the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has liberated swathes of northern Syria from ISIS – is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The groups deny they are linked.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20 with the stated aim of forcing the YPG back from the Turkish border. In mid-March, Ankara claimed it had taken control of the whole of Afrin – a Kurdish canton in northwestern Syria.
The French president has been scathing in his assessment of Turkey’s Afrin operation. Speaking to reporters last week in Brussels, he urged Turkey to respect the UN mandated ceasefire agreement and said France will participate in future dialogue.
“I believe we must take the security of Turkey into consideration, this is evident, but we will never support an intrusion into a sovereign country, Syria, even if this country is at war and we cannot question what is an infraction of a resolution of the United Nations that we contributed to and that the Russians accepted, so it is important in the context of dialogue to build, with Turkey, a return to normality and France will contribute with all it has toward this goal,” said Macron.
Turkey has now threatened to march east, potentially pitching its forces against US forces stationed in Manbij.
Turkey, which is a member of NATO, has offered to coordinate with US forces in the area.