Obama calls Erdoğan, shares Turkey's Syria concerns
Obama (L) and Erdoğan are seen in a file photo
Turkey's presidency said U.S. President Barack Obama had shared his concerns over the Syrian conflict and promised his support on Feb. 19, hours after a tense exchange between the two NATO allies over the role of Kurdish militants.
In a phone conversation that lasted one hour and 20 minutes, Ankara said Obama had told his counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Turkey had a right to self-defense and expressed worries over advances by Syrian Kurdish militias near Turkey's border.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that during the Obama-initiated call, the two leaders also discussed the situation in Syria.
Obama stressed to Erdoğan that Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and the YPG. forces should not seek to exploit recent gains by the Syrian government to seize additional territory, the White House said in a statement.
He also called for Turkey to "show reciprocal restraint" by stopping artillery strikes in the area, the statement said.
Earlier on Feb. 19, Erdoğan said U.S.-supplied weapons had been used against civilians by a Syrian Kurdish militia group that Ankara blames for the deadly suicide bombing on Feb. 16, which claimed 28 lives.
The U.S. State Department, which sees the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters as useful allies against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), said the United States had "not provided any weapons of any kind" to the group.
The issue risks driving a wedge between the NATO allies at a critical point in Syria's civil war, as the United States pursues intensive talks with Syria's ally Russia to bring about a "cessation of hostilities."
Obama expressed his condolences to Erdoğan over the bombing in the Turkish capital, the White House said.
Before the call with Obama, Erdogan said he was saddened by the West's refusal to call the Syrian Kurdish militia terrorists, and would explain to the U.S. president how weapons provided by the United States had aided them.
"I will tell him, 'Look at how and where those weapons you provided were fired'," Erdoğan told reporters in Istanbul.
"Months ago in my meeting with him I told him the U.S. was supplying weapons. Three plane loads arrived, half of them ended up in the hands of Daesh ISIL), and half of them in the hands of the PYD," he said.
"Against whom were these weapons used? They were used against civilians there and caused their deaths."
The White House statement did not say whether Erdogan brouğht up the subject of U.S. weapons with Obama.
Erdoğan appeared to be referring to a U.S. air drop of 28 bundles of military supplies in late 2014 meant for Iraqi Kurdish fighters near the Syrian city of Kobane, Reuters said.
Pentagon officials said at the time one had fallen into the hands of ISIL.
The Pentagon later said it had targeted the missing bundle in an air strike and destroyed it.
The United States has said it does not consider the YPG a terrorist group. A spokesman for the State Department said on Feb. 17 that Washington was not in a position to confirm or deny Turkey's charge that the YPG was behind the Ankara bombing.
The spokesman also called on Turkey to stop its recent shelling of the YPG. The YPG's political arm has denied the group was behind the Ankara attack and said Turkey was using it to justify an escalation in fighting in northern Syria.
The Turkish government has said the Ankara attack, in which a car laden with explosives was detonated next to military buses as they waited at traffic lights, was carried out by a YPG member from northern Syria working with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
But the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a group that once had links to the PKK, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement on its website. It said the bomber was a 26-year-old Turkish national.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu earlier accused the United States of making conflicting statements about the Syrian Kurdish militia.
He said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had told him the YPG could not be trusted, in what Çavuşoğlu said was a departure from Washington's official position.
"My friend Kerry said the YPG cannot be trusted," Çavuşoğlu said at a news conference during a visit to Tbilisi.
"When you look at some statements coming from America, conflicting and confused statements are still coming.... We were glad to hear from John Kerry yesterday that his views on the YPG have partly changed."
Within hours of the Ankara attack, Turkish warplanes bombed bases in northern Iraq of the PKK.