US President Donald Trump has said it would be "fine" with him if Syria got help from Russia in Damascus' standoff with Turkey, and appeared to further distance himself from the US's Syrian Kurdish allies, saying they are "not angels."
Speaking to journalists at the White House on Wednesday as he met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump reiterated that it was time for the US to "go home," and said that he would prefer slapping Ankara with sanctions to fighting in the region.
"If Turkey goes into Syria it is between Turkey and Syria. It's not our problem," Trump said.
"If Syria wants to fight to take back their land, that's up to them and Turkey," he added. "There's a lot of sand that they can play with," he noted. "Syria may have some help with Russia and that's fine," Trump said.
The US, Trump noted, remains prepared to help negotiate the situation in Syria. According to the president, Syria's Kurds "are very well protected. By the way, they are not angels," he said.
Trump also confirmed that US troops in northern Syria were "largely out" of the area where Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters were engaged in combat.
Trump also said he was 'confident' about the safety of the US nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey. Earlier, former US officials expressed concerns about the status of the estimated 50 nuclear bombs stationed at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, with reports that the US was seeking to evacuate the bombs from the air base amid Washington-Ankara tensions.
Sanctions Over Syria
Trump signed an executive order greenlighting sanctions against Turkish officials and entities on Monday over Turkey's operation in northern Syria. Earlier Wednesday, Chair of the House Republican Committee Liz Cheney said lawmakers were preparing to introduce a bill with bipartisan support which would place sanctions on Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced Wednesday that Ankara would retaliate to US sanctions, and called on Washington to "reassess their position." Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he may cancel his November visit to the US amid the sanctions threats.
Turkey's operation in northern Syria has met the ire of its NATO allies, with the Trump administration announcing sanctions and other countries saying they would halt weapons deliveries to Ankara. Turkey's allies have voiced their disapproval of Turkey's attack on the Syrian Kurds, who played an instrumental role in the US-led coalition's campaign against Daesh (ISIS)* between 2014 and 2017. Ankara claims the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces are allied to the Kurdish Worker's Party, a militant Kurdish political and militant movement which has waged a low intensity war against the Turkish government for several decades.
Damascus has repeatedly condemned the presence of all uninvited foreign military forces on its soil, and has accused Ankara of having "aggressive intentions" amid its latest military operation in northern Syria. Over the weekend, Syria's Kurdish authorities announced that an agreement had been reached with Damascus allowing the Syrian Army to deploy along the Syria-Turkey border to help repel attacks by Turkish forces and their allies. Along with the Turkish military, Turkey's operation is being supported by the 'New Syrian Army', a rebranded rebel formation previously known as the 'Free Syrian Army', which has sought to overthrow the Assad government in the foreign-backed civil conflict in Syria starting in 2011.
US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are expected to touch down in Ankara on Thursday for talks on the Syria crisis with President Erdogan.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.