Updated Oct 16, 2019

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.

Go deeper

Senators: Erdogan's White House invitation should be revoked

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Photo: Drew Angerer/ Zach Gibson/Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have publicly suggested that President Trump revoke his invitation to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next month after Turkey's offensive into Syria.

The big picture: Domestic pressure is mounting against Trump following his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which gave Erdogan space to invade the area. Bipartisan opposition against Trump's has been building on this issue — even pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to work with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to draft sanctions against Turkey's outrages in Syria and support Kurdish allies.

Go deeperArrowOct 16, 2019

Romney on Pence meeting with Turkey's Erdogan: "It's too late"

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) attacked President Trump's decision to send a delegation to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey's invasion of Syria, telling NBC reporters on Wednesday that it's "too late for this kind of conversation."

"It's very hard to understand why it is the vice president and secretary of state and others are going to talk with Erdogan and Turkey... It's like the farmer who lost all his horses and goes to now shut the barn door."
Go deeperArrowOct 16, 2019

Turkey and Russia agree to Syria buffer zone cleared of Kurdish forces

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an agreement on Tuesday to clear Kurdish YPG forces 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border in order to establish a "safe zone" where Syrian refugees can be resettled.

Why it matters: American influence on the future of Syria is evaporating in real time as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. It's now Turkey and Russia that are attempting to redefine the country's borders and determine the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019