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Erdogan Issues ‘Final Warning’ to Kurds on Eve of Syria Summit

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a “final warning” for U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters to retreat from sensitive border areas of Syria as he prepared to host world leaders in the search for a negotiated end to the nation’s seven-year conflict.

The president has repeatedly accused the U.S. of delaying implementation of a June agreement for the full withdrawal of Kurdish YPG forces from the Syrian town of Manbij. Turkey considers the group a terrorist affiliate of separatists it’s battled at home for decades, and wants its fighters pushed back to the east of the Euphrates River.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are scheduled to attend the meeting in Istanbul on Saturday. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Anadolu Agency the talks will focus on formulas for a political solution in Syria, including the cease-fire in Idlib province.

Russia and Turkey last month struck a truce to hold off an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Idlib by setting up a demilitarized zone between rebels and pro-government forces. An assault threatened to trigger a fresh wave of refugees across Syria’s border, directly impacting Turkey and Europe.

The idea of a summit first emerged in talks between Merkel and Erdogan last month, although France in particular was reluctant to commit to a meeting while Russia refused to consider a transition away from Assad’s rule. Russia has instead stressed the need for Europe to help pay for reconstruction once the war ends in Syria.

On the summit eve, Erdogan was keen to stress the importance of limiting the Kurdish presence near his country’s frontier.

“Instead of idling around in Manbij, we are determined to turn our focus and energy to the east of the Euphrates,” he said. “We are carrying out studies in line with our own operation plans and signs of them will soon be visible in the field. This should be regarded as our final warning.”

If he pushes Turkish forces east, Erdogan would run the risk of a direct confrontation with American forces deployed with the Kurds. The U.S. backed the YPG as the most effective counter to Islamic State after the group rampaged across swaths of Syria and Iraq from 2014.

With the jihadists largely pushed back to remote pockets of territory, the presence of American forces offers Washington some leverage over the Syrian war’s endgame, which is being orchestrated by Putin.

— With assistance by Patrick Donahue, and Gregory Viscusi

This article was originally published in Bloomberg.

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