Pompeo Says U.S. Reviewing Options to Aid Turkey: Syria Update

Firat Kozok, David Wainer and Selcan Hacaoglu

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey threatened to release a new wave of refugees toward Europe after western allies were cool to its calls for assistance in the wake of the deadliest day so far for Turkish forces in Syria.

The statement, by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, came shortly after a European Union spokesman said it had received no information from Turkey on a change in its policy on migrants.

The latest escalation came after 33 Turkish troops were killed and dozens more wounded in airstrikes in northwestern Syria Thursday, triggering a retaliatory strike against Syrian government forces. Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denied any role in the attack, but Turkish officials criticized Moscow for not doing more to rein in its ally.

Hours after Erdogan spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin announced the two may meet in Moscow March 5 or 6, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news service.

Below are highlights of what’s taking place since Thursday’s clashes in Turkish local time:

Key Developments

Erdogan’s communications director says the nation won’t be able to handle a new refugee flow if Syria’s Idlib falls to forces loyal to Syrian President AssadPutin, Erdogan held “detailed” discussions on Idlib, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Turkey said the two leaders are expected to hold face-to-face talksTurkey says 309 Syrian troops have been killed in retaliation since Thursday’s clashesTurkish stocks, lira and bonds slumped as geopolitical risks added to virus woes plaguing risky assets

Turkey Hits Syrian Chemical Warfare Facility Near Aleppo (6:26 a.m.)

Turkey’s military hit several Syrian targets, including a chemical warfare facility which is located about 13 kilometers (8 miles) south of the northern city of Aleppo, according to the president’s office. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said 1 more Turkish soldier was killed in Syria on Friday. That increased the confirmed death toll for Turkish troops in Idlib to 53 in February.

Pompeo Blames Assad, Russia, Iran for Crisis (12:55 a.m.)

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo blamed the Assad regime, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah for preventing the establishment of a cease-fire in northern Syria and said the U.S. is “reviewing options to assist Turkey against this aggression as we seek to prevent further Assad regime and Russian brutality and alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Idlib.”

“The attacks must cease, humanitarian access must be granted, and a political solution advanced,” Pompeo said in a statement. Turkey had previously asked the U.S. to deploy two Patriot missile-defense batteries on its southern border to free it to punish any future attacks by Russian-backed Syrian troops.

UN Chief Seeks “Immediate Cease-Fire” (9:20 p.m.)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the latest escalation represents one of “of the most alarming moments across the duration of the Syrian conflict.”

“Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour,” Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday. “The most pressing need is an immediate cease-fire before the situation gets entirely out of control.”

Trump Reaffirms Turkey Support in Erdogan Call (8:31 p.m.)

U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his condolences for the loss of Turkish troops and “reaffirmed his support for Turkey’s efforts to de-escalate the situation in northwest Syria and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” according to a White House statement.

“The two leaders agreed that the Syrian regime, Russia, and the Iranian regime must halt their offensive before more innocent civilians are killed and displaced,” according to the statement.

Merkel Offers Erdogan ‘Solidarity’ in Call (8:26 p.m.)

In a call with Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered “solidarity in humanitarian support for the people driven out of Idlib.” The two leaders agreed on the need for a new cease-fire and political talks as soon as possible, according to a readout from Merkel’s office. Erdogan condemned “reckless attacks” on Turkish units and called for an end to the “offensive attacks” by Syria and its supporters.

Putin, Erdogan May Meet in Moscow Next Week (6:59 p.m.)

Putin and Erdogan may meet in Moscow March 5 or 6 to discuss the crisis, Russia’s official Tass news agency said, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The Kremlin had resisted Erdogan’s earlier calls for a meeting in Istanbul at that time.

UN Security Council to Hold Emergency Meeting (6:42 p.m.)

Security Council meeting to be held at 4 p.m. in New York to discuss “the developing crisis,” Belgium’s UN mission said in a tweet.

U.K. Wants UN Security Council Meeting on Idlib (6:11 p.m.)

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned Russia and Syria over the “reckless” airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib, and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

“We support our NATO ally Turkey’s efforts to negotiate an immediate and lasting cease-fire in Idlib, which is imperative if this already dangerous situation is not to deteriorate further,” Raab said in an emailed statement. “Yesterday’s events only confirmed the reckless and brutal nature of the offensive which the Syrian regime and Russia are conducting in Idlib.”

Greece Closes Customs Post on Border With Turkey (5:53 p.m.)

Greece closed the customs post at the Kastanies border crossing with Turkey, known as Pazarkule in Turkish, to prevent a number of migrants gathered there from entering the country. “Greece does not bear any responsibility for the tragic events in Syria and will not suffer the consequences of decisions taken by others,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a Twitter post.

Altun Says Millions to Flee to Europe if Idlib Falls (3:09 p.m.)

Turkey is pressed by developments in Syria’s Idlib and has no choice but to “loosen” its policy of preventing refugees from fleeing on to Europe, Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun says in Ankara.

EU Reiterates Calls For De-Escalation (2:30 p.m.)

EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano reiterated the bloc’s calls to Russia for de-escalation, without, however, announcing any concrete action other than ongoing contacts with the parties involved. Stano said the Commission hasn’t been notified of any changes in Turkey’s migration policy, nor has it received any figures from EU member states so far showing an increase in inflows.

Russia Says Putin, Erdogan Spoke by Phone on Idlib (1:09 p.m.)

Erdogan called Putin to discuss the crisis Friday and the two had a “detailed” discussion, Lavrov told a Moscow news conference.

“It was devoted to the need to do everything to fulfill the original agreements on the Idlib de-escalation zone,” Lavrov said, referring to the 2018 agreement with Turkey.

Lavrov expressed Russia’s “deepest condolences” for the deaths of the Turkish servicemen. While Russia is doing all it can to protect Turkish forces in Idlib, it can’t prevent the Syrian government from striking “terrorists” on its soil, he said.

‘No Change’ in Turkish Policy on Refugees (12:54 p.m.)

Turkey’s policy on refugees and immigrants hasn’t changed, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy says in an emailed statement.

However, the recent developments have increased the refugee pressure on Turkey, Aksoy said. “Some immigrants and refugees have started moving toward our Western borders. In case the situation deteriorates, this risk will continue to escalate.”

Turkey’s Defense Minister Disputes Russian Account (12:14 p.m.)

The attack against Turkish troops in Idlib, Syria occurred even as Russian officers on the ground were informed of their positions, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was cited as saying by state media.

“During the attack, there were no armed groups around our troops. Following the first strike, another warning was issued, but the attack continued,” Akar said. “Even ambulances were hit during these airstrikes.”

In response to the attack, Turkish forces targeted more than 200 Syrian military locations with heavy fire from ground forces, planes and drones, Akar said. The attacks have “neutralized” 309 Syrian soldiers as they hit five helicopters, 23 tanks and aerial defense systems, the minister said.

Stoltenberg Calls on Syria, Russia to Halt Airstrikes (11:47 a.m.)

Russia and the Assad regime must stop all airstrikes in Syria’s Idlib province and de-escalate the crisis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with BBC Radio.

“I call on the Assad regime and Russia to stop all the airstrikes and to engage in a constructive manner in UN-led efforts to find a lasting peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. There is no doubt that Russia is playing an active role in Syria and also in Idlib province,” he said.

Earlier, Stoltenberg “urged all parties to deescalate this dangerous situation” in a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to a NATO statement

EU Calls for Idlib De-escalation (11:28 a.m.)

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said in a Twitter post that the bloc “calls on all sides for rapid de-escalation and regret all loss of life.”

“Ongoing escalation around needs to stop urgently. There is a risk of sliding into a major open international military confrontation. It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger,” he said.

Turkish Markets Roiled After Syria Showdown Escalated (09:55 a.m.)

The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index slumped 10% at the open, its biggest intraday drop in almost seven years, led by lenders Akbank TAS and Turkiye Garanti Bankasi AS. The currency dropped for a fifth day, even as state banks were seen selling dollars aggressively, according to two traders with knowledge of the matter.

Russians Say They Didn’t Target Turkish Soldiers (08:50 a.m.)

Russia denied involvement in Thursday’s attack, saying the Turkish troops had been “within the ranks of terrorist” groups that came under fire from Syrian government forces. When it was clear there were Turkish casualties, Russia “took exhaustive measures for a complete cessation of fire” by the Syrian military, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said Friday.

Erdogan’s Party Says It’s Getting Difficult to ‘Hold’ Refugees (02:52 a.m.)

Turkey’s policy on Syrian refugees remains unchanged but it’s getting increasingly difficult to “hold” them, said Omer Celik, spokesman of Erdogan’s ruling party, AKP.

“Our refugee policy is the same but there is a situation at hand. We’re not in a position to hold the refugees anymore,” Celik was cited as saying by Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu.

--With assistance from Vladimir Kuznetsov, Firat Kozok, Kerim Karakaya, Constantine Courcoulas, Stuart Biggs, Justin Sink and Stepan Kravchenko.

To contact the reporters on this story: Firat Kozok in Ankara at fkozok@bloomberg.net;David Wainer in New York at dwainer3@bloomberg.net;Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, ;Riad Hamade at rhamade@bloomberg.net, Bill Faries, Joshua Gallu

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