Rouhani and Erdogan meet following US decision on Syria

Iranian and Turkish leaders meet in Ankara following Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

Tal Polon ,

Rouhani and Erdogan in Ankara
Rouhani and Erdogan in Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday held talks with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, AFP reported.

The meeting follows the White House announcement yesterday that the US was pulling its troops out of Syria.

Speaking to reporters before departure for Ankara yesterday, Rouhani said that “economic relations” would top the agenda of the talks, according to the Turkish pro-government Daily Sabah.

However, AFP noted that, in light of the US decision, Syria would likely now dominate the talks.

Turkey has been working with Iran and Russia to reach a solution in Syria through the Astana process launched last year.

While Trump administration officials have in the past said that US strategy in Syria encompassed a range goals including curbing Iranian influence in the country, Trump tweeted yesterday that defeating ISIS, a mission he said had been accomplished, was his “only reason” for having US troops in Syria.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Subsequently, the White House confirmed that the US had started withdrawing its troops from Syria, following reports that it was considering such a move.

“We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a statement.

“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” Sanders explained. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign.”

She added that the US and its allies “will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”

In a video posted later on Twitter, Trump reiterated, “We won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land, and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

A US official told Reuters on Wednesday that all State Department personnel in Syria would be evacuated from the country within 24 hours, and that all US forces will depart within 60 to 100 days, once the final operation against ISIS has been completed.

According to Reuters, up until now the United States had about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which is led by Kurdish YPG forces.

The US move comes as Turkey threatens a new offensive against the US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to attack the YPG Kurdish militia operating east of the Euphrates River. The YPG has been battling ISIS with the assistance of the US.

Following the US announcement, Kurdish commanders said they still had hopes that Trump might reverse his decision.

"We are being told that the Pentagon is pushing back - which is why we are being careful in what we are saying now," said one YPG commander, according to Voice of America. "But if there isn't change of heart, this will be green-light for Turkey to attack," he added.