Trump tells Turkish leader that US will cut funds to Kurdish forces

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump spoke Friday with Turkey’s president ‘‘about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East,’’ and reportedly assured his Turkish counterpart that the United States would no longer supply arms to Syrian Kurdish soldiers.

After the leaders spoke by phone, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Trump told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will no longer supply the weapons. Cavusoglu said he was present in Erdogan’s office during the call.

Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian fighters, the People’s Protection Units known by the initials YPG, to be terrorists because of their affiliation to outlawed Kurdish rebels that have waged a three decadelong insurgency in Turkey.


The YPG is a key US ally in the coalition fighting the against the Islamic State in Syria, and is considered the most crucial fighting force responsible for its setbacks.

‘‘Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won’t be given arms, and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,’’ Cavusoglu said in Ankara, the Turkish capital.

Turkey’s announcement appeared to catch the Pentagon and the State Department off guard. The White House confirmed the move late Friday, saying the government will be making “adjustments” to military support for its partners in Syria.

Officials at the Defense and State departments, who would normally be informed of changes in US policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any changes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States have soured recently over a number of issues, including US support to the Kurdish fighters.

Cavusoglu quoted Trump as saying that he had given instructions to US generals and to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that ‘‘no weapons” would be issued. ‘‘Of course, we were very happy with this,’’ Cavusoglu said.


Although likely to upset the Kurds, it was unclear how much significance such a change would have on the ground.

The United States has been arming the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State through an umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which consists of Kurdish as well as Arab fighters.

But the retreat of ISIS, which has lost nearly all its territory in Syria, has altered the dynamics in the region, and a US defense official said he was unaware of any additional arms scheduled to be transferred to the Kurds.

In a series of morning tweets from Florida earlier Friday, Trump noted that he would be calling Erdogan to discuss the situation in the Middle East before hitting the links at his Jupiter, Fla., golf course with Tiger Woods and pro golfer Dustin Johnson.

‘‘I will get it all done, but what a mistake, in lives and dollars, to be there in the first place!’’ Trump wrote of the Mideast conflicts.

Trump railed during his campaign about the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq but has boasted about progress under his watch in recent months.

Trump has used the $6 trillion figure to describe US spending on Mideast conflicts, though fact checkers have said the number is only partly accurate, since it falls on the high end of analysts’ estimates and includes future costs, such as care, and disability benefits as well as nation-building costs.


Last week, Erdogan attended a trilateral meeting with the Russian and Iranian leaders in Sochi, Russia, to promote a peaceful settlement in Syria.

Trump said that after his golf game Friday he planned to return to his Mar-a-Lago estate “for talks on bringing even more jobs and companies back to the USA!’’

In a separate development, Trump has signaled again that he wants to put his stamp on the welfare system, apparently in favor of a more restrictive policy. He says ‘‘people are taking advantage of the system.’’

Trump said in the past week that he wants to tackle the issue after the tax overhaul he is seeking by the end of the year. He said changes were ‘‘desperately needed in our country’’ and that his administration would soon offer plans. He offered no details.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said more specifics were likely early next year. But the groundwork has already begun at the White House and Trump has made his interest known to Republican lawmakers.

Overhauling welfare was one of the goals of Bill Clinton’s presidency. He ran in 1992 on a promise to change the system but struggled to get consensus on a bill among congressional lawmakers.

Four years later, he signed a law that replaced a federal entitlement with grants to the states, placed a time limit on how long families could get aid, and required recipients to go to work eventually.