President Donald Trump distanced himself and the United States from the conflict between Syria and Turkey in the Middle East on Wednesday.
“If Turkey goes into Syria it is between Turkey and Syria,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s not our problem.”
Despite Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting Turkey on Thursday to urge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to halt his military offensive, Trump appeared indifferent.
“If Syria wants to fight for their land, that’s up to Turkey and Syria,” Trump said. “Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine. It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”
The president commented on the ongoing conflict during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Oval Office.
He acknowledged that the United States would still try to stop the ongoing conflict, just not with military strength.
“We’re watching and we’re negotiating and we’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing, we want to see wars stopped,” Trump said.
Many Republicans in the foreign policy establishment voiced outrage last week after Trump signaled he would not act to stop Turkey from attacking the Kurds in Syria, arguing the president was betraying the allies of the United States fight to defeat ISIS.
But Trump indicated the Kurds had their own problems, but had the ability to defend themselves.
“They know how to fight. They are not angels,” he said. “We’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing. We want to see wars stopped.”
The president expressed confidence the Kurds would survive the Turkish offensive in Syria, noting their recent deal with Bashar al-Assad for protection.
“Syria’s protecting the Kurds. They’re safe,” he said.
He also defended his own handling of the conflict, despite bipartisan criticism.
“I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria for the United States — strategically brilliant,” he said.