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Turkey's Erdogan walks back refusal to meet with Pence and Pompeo

Photo: Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Sky News Wednesday that he will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading a delegation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey to discuss a ceasefire in northern Syria.

Later, however, Erdogan's communications director walked that refusal back, tweeting that the president "does plan to meet the U.S. delegation led by [Pence] tomorrow."

Sky News' original video:

The tweet from Erdogan's communications director:

Worth noting: Erdogan originally told Sky News that he would only meet with President Trump.

  • He is facing increasing international pressure over his decision to launch an offensive strike against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
  • Pence's official schedule still shows that he will depart at 6:00 p.m. ET for Ankara.

Our thought bubble: While Erdogan may be facing international pressure, the offensive and his defiance of the U.S. is clearly playing well domestically right now.

  • Trump administration officials tell Axios they are banking that his position will change if and when Turkey’s economy starts suffering the way it did last time Trump hit the country with sanctions to secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Behind the scenes: Trump has gloated to advisers that he broke Erdogan during the Brunson negotiations — that he hit Turkey "so hard" with sanctions and drove its economy down.

  • He told advisers Erdogan initially told him he couldn’t do anything because it was being handled by the Turkish justice system. Trump said he told Erdogan back then, "Bullshit, a justice system. You own the justice system."
  • This time it's harder for Trump, though, because his initial statement effectively cleared the way for Erdogan's invasion.
  • And Trump has doubled down and defended his decision to withdraw the U.S. from northern Syria on the grounds of ending "endless wars." In other words, he’s trying to sanction the cat after he let it out of the bag.

The state of play: Erdogan says he will only agree to a ceasefire when the Kurdish militia, whom he views as a terrorist group, surrenders and leaves the Turkish controlled areas in Syria, reports the Wall Street Journal.

What's next: Erdogan and Trump are set to meet in D.C. next month, but Erdogan told reporters that he is still weighing the visit because he feels the "arguments, debates, conversations being held in Congress regarding my person, my family and my minister friends are a very big disrespect," per Reuters.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has also extended an invitation to Erdogan to visit in the next few days, reports Reuters.

Go deeper: Pelosi and Graham team up to oppose Trump's Syria decision

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated to include the tweet from Erdogan's communications director.