It is "irrational" to say Turkey targets "Kurds" in Syria as Ankara is fighting Daesh and the PKK/PYD/YPG, Turkey's presidential spokesman said. Ibrahim Kalin was responding to top Trump adviser John Bolton, who also criticised Iran's role in Syria.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton (L) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a statement to the media follow their meeting in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton (L) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a statement to the media follow their meeting in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019. (AFP)

US National Security Advisor John Bolton is headed to Turkey on Monday, facing a rebuke from Ankara over the latest shift in US policy on Syria.

Speaking in Israel on Sunday, Bolton called on Turkey not to target Kurds in Syria, an apparent reference to the YPG terror group.

It is "irrational" to say Turkey targets Kurds as the country is fighting Daesh and the PKK/PYD/YPG, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said in response to Bolton's remarks.

“The issue is PKK/PYD/YPG are making efforts to establish an order by oppressing Kurds who don’t obey them, and by their terrorist activities against our country,” Kalin said. “There is no doubt that a terror group cannot be an ally of the US."

The YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK, which Ankara and Washington agree is a terrorist group. The head of the US special forces in 2015 urged the YPG to "rebrand" itself to avoid Turkish concerns and give the group a voice in Syria's future. The PKK-linked group was then renamed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey in which 40,000 people have died.

Bolton walks back Trump's Syria policy

Visiting Israel on Sunday, Bolton said the US will not withdraw troops from northeastern Syria until the Turkish government guarantees the fight against Daesh and that it won’t attack “Kurdish fighters.”

Bolton's remarks were at odds with Trump's announcement on late December that he was pulling US troops out of Syria.

Now Trump is talking about “slowly” bringing troops home “over a period of time," with Bolton heading to Turkey on Monday with that message.

“We’re going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS [Daesh] is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again,” Bolton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said, according to NBC

“Timetables or the timing of the withdrawal occurs as a result of the fulfillment of the conditions and the establishment of the circumstances that we want to see. And once that’s done, then you talk about a timetable.”

Bolton’s visit was part of a US effort to reassure its SDF allies after Trump’s announcement, which he made after discussing Syria with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

US concern over Iran's role in Syria

The New York Times said in a report that the move to reverse course on Trump’s promised swift withdrawal from Syria has picked up in recent days, even as Bolton worked to avoid openly confronting the president the way former defence secretary Jim Mattis did. Mattis resigned over Trump's decision to pull the US out of Syria.

Asked on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” if Bolton’s comments amounted to an admission that Trump had made a mistake, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who at times has been one of the president’s staunchest supporters, said, “This is the reality setting in that you’ve got to plan this out.” 

Bolton on Sunday said he expected US forces to eventually leave northeastern Syria. But The New York Times also reported that Bolton is indicating Washington could keep some troops at a garrison in Syria's southeast to monitor the flow of Iranian arms and soldiers into the country.

Bolton in September had said the US would remain in Syria as long as Iranians were on the ground there.

On Friday, in a briefing for reporters about a forthcoming trip to the Middle East by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a senior State Department official said there was no fixed timetable for the US withdrawal.

Israel calls on US to recognise Golan Heights occupation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called on the US to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

Netanyahu announced that he and Bolton would visit the region on Monday, weather permitting.

Standing next to Bolton, Netanyahu said: "When you're there, you'll be able to understand perfectly why we'll never leave the Golan Heights, and why it's important that all countries recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights."

Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 war. It annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, but the international community does not recognise the occupation.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies