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Saudi denies reopening Damascus embassy

Trump threatens Turkey if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

RIYADH, Jan 14, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia on Monday denied media reports that it was reopening its embassy in Damascus amid attempts by some Arab states, including ones that once backed rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, to reconcile with him.

A source at the Saudi foreign ministry denied comments attributed to Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf as completely untrue, according to a statement. Elsewhere, Qatar’s foreign minister said on Monday that he saw no need to re-open an embassy in Damascus, nor any encouraging signs for a normalisation of ties with the Syrian government. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani also said Qatar still objects to Arab League membership for Syria. Syria’s membership of the Arab League was suspended in 2011 over the government’s violent response to protests at the start of what turned out to be an almost eight-year war.

Some Arab states, including some that once backed rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, are seeking to reconcile with him after decisive gains by his and allied forces in the war. “Since day one Qatar had reasons for which it supported suspending (Arab League) membership and those reasons are still there, so we do not see any encouraging factor,” Al Thani said at a press conference. In Washington, US President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies. Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.” “We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment. Trump said on Sunday the United States was starting the military pullout from Syria that he announced in December but that it would continue to hit Islamic State fighters there. “Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone… Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” Trump wrote on Twitter. Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States.

A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August. The lira slid as much as 1.6 percent to 5.5450 against the dollar and stood at 5.52 at 1122 GMT on Monday. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Trump should respect Washington’s alliance with Ankara. “Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter.

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