Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its military offensive against Kurdish militiamen in Syria on Wednesday as US President Donald Trump dispatched his deputy Mike Pence to Ankara to demand a cease-fire.
The only way to solve Syria's problems, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament, was for the Kurdish forces to "lay down their arms... destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated."
Erdogan warned that no power could stop Turkey’s offensive into northeast Syria until it reaches its goal.
The operation will end when the “safe zone” is established, he said, and Turkey was not open to negotiating this.
Erdogan made clear Turkey would not bow to pressure and would press ahead with the military operation until Turkish troops reach a depth of some 30 or 35 kilometers inside Syria.
He also called on the world to support Turkey’s battle against Kurdish groups it considers to be “terrorists” for links to an insurgency within its own borders.
Battles raged in the key Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Wednesday, with Kurdish militia trying to hold off the onslaught by Turkish-backed forces, now in its second week.
US officials in Turkey
The fighting has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that he and Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara despite the foreign leader earlier saying he would not attend, cnbc.com reported.
“At this point, the vice president and I are planning to take off later this afternoon,” Pompeo said. “And we have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdogan. And it’s important, Maria, we need to have this conversation with him directly.”
The comments came during an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. They came shortly before the US delegation, including Pence, Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien were scheduled to travel to Turkey in an effort to stymie the country’s military actions in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan earlier told Sky News that he would not meet with the US delegation led by Pence, and would only meet with President Donald Trump, before reversing himself in comments to the Turkish press.
Russia has deployed patrols in northern Syria to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces after US forces left the area.
The Russian TV showed its forces alongside Syrian troops taking up positions in and around the key town of Manbij following the US pullback.
The Kremlin said it would host Erdogan for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days, to ensure the operation does not turn into all-out war between Turkey and Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will encourage Syria’s government and Kurdish forces to reach agreements and implement them following the Turkish operation.
Speaking in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi, Lavrov said Wednesday the Turkish operation had allowed captured Daesh terrorists to escape. He added that Moscow would support security cooperation between Turkish and Syrian forces along their border.
Lavrov also blamed the United States and Western nations for undermining the Syrian state, thus “pushing the Kurds toward separatism and confrontation with Arab tribes.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday urged Turkey to end its military operation.
Zarif said that all the relevant concerns in the border region of the two countries should be addressed through Adana Agreement.
He also called for the protections of civilians against any "unnecessary suffering."
Trump – facing mounting criticism in Washington over his decision to pull 1,000 troops out of the conflict zone – has hit back at Erdogan, slapping sanctions on three cabinet officials and raising tariffs on Turkish steel.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey won't be affected by "sanctions and threats" and would retaliate.
"No sanctions or threats are acceptable and will not affect our resolve," Cavusoglu told parliament on Wednesday.
"We will give the appropriate answer to these sanctions. We will take the necessary steps," he added.
Pence's office had earlier released a statement that he would meet Erdogan today and "voiced the United States' commitment to reach an immediate cease-fire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement."
He reiterated that Trump will pursue "punishing economic sanctions" until a resolution is reached.
Britain and Spain became the latest powers to suspend military exports to Turkey on Tuesday. Canada made a similar move.
Since launching their assault on October 9, Turkish-backed forces have secured more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) of border, but Ras al-Ain has held out.
Erdogan wants to create a buffer zone stretching 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border into Syrian territory.
He wants to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees Ankara is hosting.
"God willing, we will quickly secure the region stretching from Manbij to our border with Iraq," Erdogan said.
The offensive has left dozens of civilians dead, mostly on the Kurdish side, and displaced at least 160,000 people.
The United Nations special envoy for Syria called on Wednesday for an immediate end to hostilities along the Arab country’s border with Turkey.
Geir Pedersen raised Turkey’s week-old incursion into northeastern Syria in talks in Damascus with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Pedersen said the UN was extremely concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the crisis and called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities.”
Muallem said Turkey’s aggression was prolonging the crisis in Syria and undermining efforts to secure a political settlement.
AFP, Reuters, and AP contributed to this story.