President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused President Trump on Friday of having broken with “diplomatic and political courtesy” by sending him a letter threatening to destroy the Turkish economy if he did not behave in “the right and humane way” in Syria.
“We will not forget this lack of respect,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “But our reciprocal love and respect,” he said, would prevent the two leaders from keeping the letter “continuously on the agenda.”
At the same time, Erdogan said, “we also want it to be known that, when the time comes, the necessary thing will be done.”
It was the latest back and forth between the two leaders who have sought to portray themselves as strong-willed and unforgiving, and created an intensely personal backdrop for a policy decision with deadly serious consequences.
Earlier this month, Trump gave Turkey the green light to invade northern Syria, pulling back 1,000 US troops and abandoning the Kurdish fighters who had for years been fighting side-by-side with American soldiers to defeat the Islamic State extremist group. Erdogan considers those same Kurdish fighters to be terrorists hostile to Turkey.
Trump’s decision came after a telephone conversation with Erdogan and against the advice of senior military advisers and with little advance planning.
As criticism of Trump’s decision intensified, the White House released a letter from Trump to Erdogan as proof that the American president had not been rolled by his Turkish counterpart.
“Let’s work out a good deal!” Trump wrote in the brief missive dated Oct. 9 — the same day Turkish forces entered northern Syria. “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.”
He went on to encourage Erdogan not to act rashly.
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
Turkish officials told the BBC that the letter had so enraged Erdogan that he threw it in the trash, though it was not clear whether that was literally or metaphorically.
It remains unclear whether Erdogan ordered his forces to enter Syria before or after he read Trump’s letter.