WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday denied that the United States had any intention to build a Syria-Turkey border force, saying the issue, which has incensed Ankara, had been “misportrayed.”
Turkey has reacted angrily and warned of an imminent incursion into Syria’s Afrin district after Washington said it would help Syrian Democratic Forces led by Kurdish YPG militias to set up a new 30,000 strong border force.
On Wednesday, Turkey said it would not hesitate to take action in Afrin district and other regions across the border in Syria unless the United States withdrew support for the force.
Tillerson told reporters he had met Turkey’s foreign minister in Vancouver on Tuesday to clarify the issue.
“That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed. Some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all,” he said aboard his aircraft taking him back to Washington from Canada, where he hosted a meeting on North Korea.
“I think it’s unfortunate that comments made by some left that impression. That is not what we’re doing.”
‘Really starting to hurt’ North Korea
Regarding sanctions on North Korea, he said that the United States is receiving evidence that international sanctions are “really starting to hurt” North Korea, and praised China for putting pressure on Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had attributed North Korea’s recent willingness to talk to South Korea to the pain of sanctions, Tillerson told an event at Stanford University in California.
Tillerson said that he was confident the pressure would eventually bring North Korea to the negotiating table over its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang has carried out nuclear and missiles tests in defiance of United Nations and other sanctions.
“We are getting a lot of evidence that these sanctions are really starting to hurt,” Tillerson said, citing intelligence and anecdotal evidence from defectors.
He said Japan told a conference on North Korea in Vancouver on Tuesday that more than 100 North Korean fishing boats had drifted into its waters and two-thirds of those aboard them had died.
“What they learned is that they are being sent out in the winter time because there are food shortages and they are being sent out to fish with inadequate fuel to get back,” he said.
China did not attend the Vancouver meeting, where 20 nations agreed to step up sanctions pressure on North Korea, but Tillerson highlighted Beijing’s role.
“We have never had Chinese support for sanctions like we’re getting now,” he said.
“Russia’s a slightly different issue, but the Chinese have learned in hard on the North Koreans,” he said.
Tillerson said that while North Korea had a record of seeking to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies through “charm offensives”, Washington was supportive of the North-South dialogue.
He said it was possible North Korea’s presence “may be their early effort to break the ice.”
“We’ll see – nothing may come of it,” he said.
Tillerson said of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un: “he knows how to reach me if he wants to talk. But he’s going to tell me he wants to talk. We’re not going to chase him.”
Tillerson said he was confident the sides would eventually get to the negotiating table and he wanted to know when that happened that the United States had “very, very strong military options standing behind me.”
The Trump administration has said repeatedly that all options are available, including military ones, in forcing North Korea to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States, although it prefers a diplomatic solution.
Tillerson accused Russia of not implementing all United Nations sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and said Moscow “may be frustrating” some of the steps.
Tillerson told reporters the Russian failure to comply with the UN measures “primarily” concerned fuel “but some other areas potentially as well.” He did not provide details.
“It’s apparent to us that they’re not implementing all the sanctions and there’s some evidence they may be frustrating some of the sanctions,” Tillerson said aboard his aircraft while returning from a meeting on North Korea in Vancouver.