January 23, 2018 / 7:32 PM / in 5 months

Trump to speak soon with Turkey's Erdogan on Syria offensive: U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will speak by phone soon with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to raise U.S. concerns about Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces in northwest Syria, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump sits at his desk after signing directives to impose tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Turkish officials have sent “conflicting signals” about the scope and duration of the offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG in Syria’s Afrin region.

“We’re going to have to see how this develops on the ground. But our message has been unified. We would appreciate it and we would urge them to limit the incursion as much as possible,” the official said.

A separate official said Trump planned to speak with Erodgan on Wednesday by phone.

U.S. officials see the Turkish offensive as distracting from efforts to ensure ISIS militants in the region are defeated.

The United States and Turkey, while themselves allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have diverging interests in the Syrian civil war. Washington is focused on defeating Islamic State while Ankara is keen to prevent Syria’s Kurds from gaining autonomy and fueling Kurdish insurgents on its soil.

The Turkish operation has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war. It could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria - beyond Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control - where the United States helped a force dominated by the YPG to drive out Islamic State fighters.

The official denied that the United States had been seriously considering a border force in the region. Reported plans for such a force triggered outrage in Turkey.

While there might have been some discussions by military planning of such a plan, “there was never such a plan that had any political approval” and was not considered at the policy level in Washington, the official said.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay

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