Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, where he sought to reassure the U.S.’ Kurdish allies that they will remain safe even after troops are pulled out from Syria.
His visit came amid threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his country would attack the Kurds, whom they consider to be terrorists, and confusion as to the schedule of the announced withdrawal.
“These have been folks that have fought with us and it’s important that we do everything we can to ensure that those folks that fought with us are protected,” Pompeo said of the Kurds while visiting Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, as part of his trip to the Middle East.
Pompeo’s comments echoed those of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who recently stressed that protecting the Kurds in Syria was one of America’s top priorities and a precondition for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn country.
The Turkish president, who previously held a phone call with President Donald Trump, said Bolton’s remarks were a “serious mistake” and contrary to what had been agreed with Trump. He added that his country “cannot make any concessions in this regard.”
On Wednesday, Pompeo tried to downplay Erdogan’s comments, saying that he was confident any differences would be resolved in upcoming talks between the U.S. special envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, and Turkish and Kurdish officials.
“Erdogan has made commitments; he understands that – I think he uses the language – he talks about he has no beef with the Kurds. We want to make sure that that’s the case, and I’m confident that as Ambassador Jeffrey and others travel through the region in the days ahead, we’ll make real progress on that,” the secretary of state said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on the other hand, said that Turkey will not refrain from military action to protect its borders from what he describes as threats posed by Syrian Kurdish fighters.