Ankara says all preparations for a possible military operation in northeastern Syria have been "completed," as President Donald Trump threatened to “obliterate” Turkey's economy if the country goes "off limits."
The Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted late on October 7 that the country’s armed forces "will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders."
The establishment of a "safe zone" there is "essential" for Syrians and for peace in the region, it also said.
The statement follows Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw U.S. forces from areas along the Syrian border with Turkey, leaving Kurdish-led forces in the region vulnerable to an incursion by the Turkish armed forces.
The United States has about 1,000 troops in Syria, and 50 of them have been pulled out from the border area and redeployed elsewhere in the country "where they aren't in the crossfire," a senior U.S. administration official said.
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, has been key U.S. allies in defeating the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in the war-torn country.
However, Ankara brands the militia a terrorist organization because of its links to Kurdish militants who have fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.
Following a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said on October 6 that Turkey would "soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation” into northern Syria and U.S. forces would "no longer be in the immediate area."
Trump initially defended his move saying he had been elected on "getting out of these ridiculous endless wars" and that "Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out".
But amid accusations from the YPG that it had been "stabbed in the back" and criticism from both U.S. Republicans and Democrats, Trump also threatened to "destroy and obliterate" Turkey’s economy if it goes "off limits."
The U.S. president later said he had told Erdogan there would be "big trouble" if "any of our people get hurt."
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay responded on October 8, saying Turkey "is not a country that will be moved by threats."
Russia 'Closely Watching'
Meanwhile, Germany and Britain expressed concern about Turkey's plans for military intervention, with a German government spokeswoman saying it would "have fatal security, political, and humanitarian consequences."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said that "unilateral military action must be avoided as it would destabilize the region" and threaten efforts to defeat the IS group.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to express Tehran's "opposition" to the anticipated Turkish operation in Syria, Iran's Foreign Ministry said.
Zarif also "urged respect for Syria's territorial integrity and national sovereignty" and "stressed the need for the fight against terrorism and for the establishment of stability and security" in the country, a statement quoted Zarif as saying.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had not informed in advance about any agreements between Washington and Ankara.
"We are very closely watching the situation," said Peskov.
Russia and Iran have provided crucial support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s civil war, while the United States and Turkey have backed differing rebel groups.
The conflict began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011 and has since killed more than 400,000 people.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and Erdogan has said his country plans to resettle up to 2 million refugees in northern Syria.