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Ankara fumes over Turkey comments in Pompeo’s new book

Top Turkish top officials have lashed out at former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accusing him of misinformation and hypocrisy in his memoirs.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Ankara blasted former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks on Turkey in his new book released this week as “misinformation” and “hypocrisy,” accusing the hard-line politician of trying to woo voters as he vies for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“What he says about Turkey is misinformation. I am being diplomatic. You could just call it plain lying,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Thursday. Turkey top diplomat came to loggerheads with Pompeo more than once when Pompeo was his counterpart from 2018 to 2021.

Titled “Never Give An Inch: Fighting for the America I Love,” Pompeo’s memoir have made headlines since its release Tuesday. “It’s a master class in the performative anger poisoning American politics,” wrote Pulitzer Award winner Tim Wiener in The Washington Post, describing it as having “more venom than a quiver of cobras.”

Turkish officials are primarily angry over Pompeo’s narrative on the two countries' differences over Kurdish militant groups and his reflections on the strength of the Turkish military. A colorful anecdote on how Pompeo wanted to break into a bilateral meeting in 2019 between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence also rattled rather than amused Ankara, which questioned Pompeo’s accuracy.

“Pompeo’s term as state secretary came at a time when the strategic relationship between Turkey and the United States had been seriously undermined on a number of issues, from the US support to Kurdish groups in Syria to the Turkish purchase of Russian S-400 missiles,” a Turkish official told Al-Monitor. “Pompeo’s predecessor in the Donald Trump administration, Rex Tillerson, had made some progress in defusing tensions. However, Pompeo’s ties with Ankara had been tense from the start. The memory of a tweet where he referred to Erdogan as a totalitarian Islamist dictator lingered.” The tweet in question was made on the night of Turkey's unsuccessful putsch in 2016, then deleted.

“I do not think anyone in the corridors of diplomacy expected Pompeo’s memoir to include a flattering portrayal of Turkey,” said another source close to the presidency who also asked for anonymity. “Pompeo made no secret of the fact that he was not a big fan of Erdogan nor of Turkey’s foreign policy.”

When Trump tapped Pompeo for the job in 2018, Cavusoglu declared that while Turkey would like to work with the new secretary with bilateral respect and understanding, Pompeo would “need to first learn how to behave, approach and respect us.” But, as predicted by analysts in Ankara and Washington, tensions only escalated in the three years that followed, flaring when Pompeo paid a visit to the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians in Istanbul without stopping in Ankara. Pompeo angered Ankara further with his parting shot in his last NATO meeting, accusing Turkey of undermining NATO’s security and creating instability in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute with Greece.

In his memoir, Pompeo reflects on his visit to Ankara in 2017 as CIA chief, describing his mission as “breaking" it to the Turks that Washington had chosen to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, in their self-declared capital Raqqa rather than with the Turkish military to wipe the Islamic State from northern Syria.  

Turkish officials had aggressively lobbied the Trump administration to withdraw its support from the SDF, because Ankara equates the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which form the SDF’s backbone, with the Kurdistan Workers Party, an armed group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and Turkey.

“Now came the diplomatic piece of breaking the news to the Turks. The meeting went poorly,” Pompeo said about his meeting with Turkish spy chief Hakan Fidan and Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesperson and Turkey’s de factor national security chief. 

“I’ve never seen such anger erupt so quickly in a room. Kalin and Fidan exploded and then left quickly,” he said, adding that though it had not been great for the bilateral relationship, the United States had made “the right decision.”

Kalin said they had not been angry in the meeting but merely maintained their determined stance against the move, which they considered a mistake. Speaking to Hurriyet’s Hande Firat, Kalin said the Turkish side had simply warned Pompeo against “fighting a terrorist group by supporting another.”  

In a joint press conference with Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in Ankara, Cavusoglu lashed out at what he called a mistaken assessment of Turkey's military capacities.

Turkey’s top diplomat said it was “amazing” that Washington thought that the Turkish army did not have the capacity to defeat IS when Turkish forces had already recaptured chunks of territory from militant groups in northern Syria.

“The Turkish army was the sole NATO army to fight Daesh on the field while it eliminated 4,500 terrorists of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic term for the Islamic State.

Both Kalin and Cavusoglu also challenged Pomeo’s narrative of the 2019 visit by Pence and Pompeo, then US secretary of state, to Ankara, when the two convinced Erdogan to sign a cease-fire deal in northern Syria following a Turkish military operation to seize areas formerly controlled by the US military. Pompeo said that when the US vice president spent nearly an hour alone with Erdogan, he wanted to break through the door to enter.

Kalin said that unlike what Pompeo claimed, Erdogan and Pence had been accompanied by himself and James Jeffrey, who was the US representative to Syria at the time. “Pence did not express any desire to include Pomeo in the talks,” Kalin said, describing it as an issue of the American delegation. “We learned much later that he had a meltdown outside.”

“I told my counterpart that we were going to break through the door — I was worried that Vice President Pence was being subjected to the same three-hour video of the 2016 coup that I had been forced to watch on my first visit to Turkey as CIA director in 2017,” Pompeo wrote.

The reference to the video — which he described as “so long and so obnoxious” that he suspected “a mental health issue” — prompted Cavusoglu to accuse Pompeo of disrespecting the Turkish “martyrs” who died trying to prevent the putsch.  

"The Turks experienced in real life those images on the video he called disgusting. On the night of July 15, 251 Turks were killed by the FETO terrorist organization,” Cavusoglu said, referring to the supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey holds responsible for the coup.

"We understand from his Twitter post on that night against our president which he later deleted that he supported the coup attempt. That's why he's uncomfortable with the video. Those images show how we defeated the putschists," he said.

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