Pompeo: Trump threat to Turkey shows US commitment to Kurds

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan arrive to Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan arrive to Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that President Donald Trump's threat to devastate NATO ally Turkey's economy if it attacks U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria underscores America's commitment to its partners.

Pompeo said he had yet to speak with Turkish officials or Trump about the president's tweeted threat and that he assumed Trump was referring to the imposition of sanctions should Turkey take military action against the Kurds in Syria, U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Pompeo said Trump's call for a 20-mile safe zone between Turkish forces and the Kurds was consistent with what the U.S. is trying to achieve in talks with the Turks. But, he said it remained it work in progress.

"We want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to take down the caliphate and ISIS have security and also that terrorists ... (in) Syria aren't able to attack Turkey, those are our twin aims," he told reporters in Riyadh after talks with Saudi officials.

"If we can get a space, call it a buffer zone ... if we can get the space and the security arrangements right, this will be a good thing for everyone in the region," Pompeo added.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. will "attack again from existing nearby base if it (IS) reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds."

Trump's decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked U.S. allies and angered the Kurds in Syria.

Pompeo said he had not spoken with his Turkish counterpart since the president's tweet, but said the U.S. message on the Kurds has been straightforward and unchanged since Trump made the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria last month.

"The administration has been very consistent with respect to our requirement that the Turks not go after the Kurds in ways that are inappropriate," Pompeo said. "If they are terrorists, we're all about taking down extremists wherever we find them. I think the president's comments this morning are consistent with that."

Asked specifically about what Trump meant by devastating Turkey's economy, Pompeo replied: "We apply sanctions in many places around the world. I assume he's speaking about those kinds of things but you would have to ask him."