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Erdogan Rebukes Bolton Over Kurdish Militia Comments

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, January 8, 2019

President Tayyip Erdogan rebuked Washington's national security adviser on Tuesday for demanding that Turkey does not attack Kurdish fighters in Syria, accusing him of complicating U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw U.S. troops.

Erdogan said John Bolton, who met Turkish officials in Ankara on Tuesday but left Turkey without holding expected talks with the president, had "made a serious mistake" in setting conditions for Turkey's military role after the U.S. pull-out.

Bolton met with senior Turkish officials to seek assurances that Turkey won't attack U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria that Ankara views as terrorists.

John Bolton left the two-hour meeting at the presidential complex in Ankara on the morning of January 8 after meeting with Ibrahim Kalin, a senior adviser to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, Garrett Marquis, said in a statement the two sides had identified further issues for dialogue and that the United States looks forward to ongoing military-to-military consultations.

Marquis said U.S. officials were told Erdogan would not meet with Bolton because of local election campaigns in Turkey and because of a speech that the Turkish president was due to give to parliament.

Just hours after Bolton's visit to the presidential complex in Ankara, Erdogan said in his speech that Turkey's preparations for a new military offensive against terrorist groups in Syria are "to a large extent" complete.

He criticized Bolton over comments suggesting the United States would prevent attacks on Syrian Kurdish fighters and said that Ankara "cannot make any concessions," adding that "those involved in a terror corridor" in Syria "will receive the necessary punishment."

There also was no immediate word on whether Bolton held an expected meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

Bolton said before his visit he would seek assurances that Turkey won't attack Kurdish militia fighters in Syria who are allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State extremists.

Bolton said that is a "condition" for Trump's planned withdrawal of American forces in northeastern Syria.

Bolton's visit to Ankara parallels a similar trip to the region by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and follows Trump's abrupt announcement that he was ordering 2,000 U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria.

Trump's announcement stunned U.S. allies, and led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

U.S. officials and others fear that a U.S. pullout could destabilize Syria further, and lead to the slaughter of Kurdish militias who have been fighting alongside U.S. forces.

Prior to visiting Turkey, Bolton traveled to Israel, which has also been concerned about a U.S. withdrawal.

In Jerusalem, Bolton walked back Trump's initial announcement, saying instead that the United States wanted to ensure that Islamic State "is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again."

But he also said Turkey must agree to protect the U.S. Kurdish allies.

In an opinion piece published by The New York Times January 7, President Erdogan warned that the U.S. withdrawal must be planned carefully, and carried out with the right partners.

Erdogan said Turkey was the only country "with the power and commitment to perform that task." He also wrote that Turkey was committed to defeating Islamic State and "other terrorist groups" in Syria.

In comments broadcast January 7 on CNBC TV, Pompeo said that Erdogan had promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria

Pompeo this week is visiting eight Arab capitals to discuss Syria, as well as discuss U.S. efforts to contain regional power Iran.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units form the backbone of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces.

But Turkish authorities say those Syrian Kurdish fighters are linked with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey and has been considered a terrorist group by the United States since 1997.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and The New York Times