Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that he and Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara despite the foreign leader earlier saying he would not attend.
"At this point, the vice president and I are planning to take off later this afternoon," Pompeo said. "And we have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdogan. And it's important, Maria, we need to have this conversation with him directly."
The comments came during an interview with Fox Business's Maria Bartiromo. They came shortly before the U.S. delegation, including Pence, Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O'Brien were scheduled to travel to Turkey in an effort to stymie the country's military actions in neighboring Syria.
Erdogan earlier told Sky News that he would not meet with the U.S. delegation led by Pence, and would only meet with President Donald Trump, before reversing himself in comments to the Turkish press.
The U.S.-Turkey relationship is on rocky footing following a Turkish incursion into northern Syria apparently prompted by Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from the area. Following the incursion, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the country and has pushed for a ceasefire.
The president's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria has been widely condemned. Democratic and Republican lawmakers and security officials have cast the move as an abandonment of America's Kurdish allies, who served as the chief ground force in the U.S. effort against the so-called Islamic State, and a "win" for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime.
Trump pledged debilitating economic retaliation against Turkey if they did anything "that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits," though so far the financial punishment has been limited.
Nonetheless, Ankara has pledged to retaliate against the sanctions, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying he expected the U.S. Congress to walk back its "damaging approach." A spokesperson for the Turkish president's office said the country was preparing sanctions of its own on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
As the American delegation heads to Turkey, the vice president is on a mission to convince Erdogan to commit to a ceasefire in northern Syria and pursue a peaceful resolution with U.S.-backed Kurdish militias governing the region that Turkey has long viewed as terrorists. Pompeo reiterated that a ceasefire was the goal of the trip on Wednesday.
"We need them to stand down. We need a cease fire. At which point, we can begin to put this all back together again," Pompeo said in the interview.
Erdogan has said that a ceasefire is not on the table.
"They say 'declare a ceasefire'. We will never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told reporters this week.
Turkey's offensive in Syria, marked by airstrikes and artillery shelling, is now in its seventh day amid reports of human rights atrocities, ISIS jailbreaks and mass fleeing of civilians.
The UN says 130,000 people have already been displaced, and Kurdish forces say more than 200 have been killed. Pro-Turkish forces have cut off the main road between Syria's east and west Kurdish-held territory, blocking the main highway to the Kurdish city of Kobani where U.S. troops are based.
Pompeo pushed back on criticism of U.S. sanctions, which have yet to make waves in Turkish financial markets.
"We have to remember, this is a complex situation Maria," he said. "You saw the initial set of sanctions that the president chose to put on Turkey. I think, frankly, the world has underappreciated the severity of those sanctions and how much impact they will ultimately have on the Turkish economy."
Trump on Monday signed an executive order sanctioning Turkish officials, hiking tariffs on Turkish steel up to 50% and "immediately" halting trade negotiations with the country. Turkish markets the following day were relatively flat, with the country's lira actually firming against the dollar as analysts described the penalties as "not very serious" and "window dressing."