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Trump tells Erdogan he'll lobby Nato to assist Turkey with Patriots: Official

US president told Turkish counterpart that any major American military support in Idlib won't be forthcoming, MEE can reveal
Trump has told Erdogan that Washington will lobby Nato to provide Turkey with Patriot missile systems (Christian Hartmann/AFP)
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Ankara

US President Donald Trump has told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Washington will lobby Nato members to provide Turkey with Patriot missile systems, but refused to offer any direct military assistance in Syria's Idlib, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Turkish officials last month made a formal request to the United States, asking to temporarily deploy Patriot air defence missile systems to Hatay, a border town in southern Turkey, and conduct aerial patrols in show of support for Ankara's ongoing operations against pro-Syrian government forces.

The Turkish military has launched a ferocious broadside against Syrian government forces in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, where troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been waging a deadly offensive against rebel groups.

Backed by Russian air power, the Syrian government has displaced around a million people up towards Turkey's border and killed dozens of Turkish troops supporting the rebels, prompting a strong military response and raising tensions between Ankara and Moscow.

Washington is yet to formally respond to Ankara's requests, a Turkish official told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.

'Trump complained about the 'endless wars' and the billions of dollars the US has 'wasted' in the Middle East. He said he would withdraw from the region'

- Turkish official

However, according to the official, the US president made it clear to his Turkish counterpart in a phone call on Saturday that beyond intelligence cooperation and humanitarian aid, there won’t be much he could do.

“Trump complained about the 'endless wars' and the billions of dollars the US has 'wasted' in the Middle East,” the official said. “He said he would withdraw from the region.”

Trump’s reaction came as no surprise to officials in Ankara, who believe the US president is unwilling to upset his voters by engaging in a military conflict during an election year.

Sources told MEE that the Pentagon, too, is reluctant to meet Turkish requests and would reject them under the guise of “not invoking a third world war” with Russia just to clear up “Turkey’s mess”.

“But everyone knows that they aren’t willing to help due to Turkey’s Syria incursion last year against their allies,” the official said, in reference to a contentious operation against US-backed Syrian Kurds.

Despite the bad feeling that operation caused between the two Nato allies, officials in Ankara still expect Trump to provide some limited equipment to Turkey, but nothing that will prove to be a game-changer.

The bulk of the Turkish requests, however, could be satisfied by Nato. Turkey has appealed to the alliance for its air defence needs in the past, and Nato could step in again.

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A separate Turkish official, again speaking anonymously, said Spain already deployed a Patriot system in the southern city of Adana in 2012 as part of a Nato-authorised operation.

Greece, however, could block any further aid to Turkey due to Ankara’s decision to open the border to Europe last week, which could see millions of refugees and migrants head west. Turkey opened its gates in an effort to prompt European assistance in Idlib.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu claimed on Monday that over 100,000 refugees had already left the country.

Greece has already blocked a joint Nato statement supporting Ankara over the Syria crisis, according to Greek media reports.

Meanwhile, US Special Envoy James Jeffrey and US Representative to UN Kelly Craft arrived in Turkey on Monday night on a mission to reassure Ankara of Washington's support.

Jeffrey is expected to lay down the details of the possible assistance that the US could provide.