By Greg Norman
Published October 16, 2019
Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he will speak to Vice President Pence and a U.S. delegation heading to Ankara over a potential ceasefire deal in Syria after apparently snubbing the group earlier in the morning.
The Turkish president initially appeared to indicate he would only speak to President Trump about the matter, but then reversed course and announced later that he would be talking to Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien after all.
The declaration came hours after Erdogan said his country’s ongoing military offensive against the Syrian Kurds could end “as of tonight” if their fighters leave a designated border area.
“I am not going to talk to them,” the Turkish president first told a Sky News reporter Wednesday, referring to the U.S. delegation.
“They will be talking to their counterparts,” he added. “When Trump comes here, I’ll be talking.”
Turkey's communications director later said Erdogan will meet with the delegation Thursday.
Erdogan, in a separate speech to Parliament Wednesday, made clear Turkey would not bow to pressure to reach a ceasefire deal and would press ahead with the military operation until Turkish troops reach a depth of around 19 to 22 miles inside Syria. He did say though that the offensive could end “as of tonight” if Syrian Kurdish forces there cleared out, the Associated Press reported.
Speaking to a group of journalists the day before, Erdogan said he told Trump, "We could never declare a ceasefire," adding that Turkey wouldn't negotiate with "terrorists."
The defiant comments from Erdogan come as U.S. officials are reportedly reviewing plans to evacuate up to 50 U.S. nuclear bombs that have long been stored at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
The weapons are now essentially being held "hostage" by Erdogan, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times on Monday.
The Cold War-era B61 nuclear bombs are said to be 100 to 250 miles from the Syrian border, The Guardian added.
France this week also called on members of the coalition fighting ISIS in Syria to regroup following a withdrawal of U.S. troops in the region, which paved the way for the Turkish assault.
French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said in an interview on French television channel BFM Wednesday that France is notably now looking to Russia, given their "common interests" in defeating ISIS in Syria.
Russia has moved to fill the void left by the U.S. in the conflict, deploying its forces toward Syria's border with Turkey.
Le Drian said France's "own security is at stake" amid the Turkish offensive – and "to accept this invasion" was giving ISIS "an open door" to return, as the chaos could allow thousands of Islamic State fighters detained in Kurdish-run prisons to escape.
Fox News’ Melissa Leon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.