Five European ambassadors who had called the meeting hoping to present a unified front against Turkey stood together with a sixth, from Estonia, and demanded that Turkey cease its military operations. They vowed not to provide stabilization or development assistance in areas where the local population is mistreated.
Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Trump administration does not endorse Turkey’s military action and warned of unspecified “consequences” but stopped short of condemning it.
“Failure to play by the rules, to protect vulnerable populations, failure to guarantee that ISIS cannot exploit these actions to reconstitute, will have consequences,” she said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State.
The Russian U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the United States and its coalition allies of conducting “demographic engineering” that he said led to the conflict. He called for a solution that would “take into account other aspects of the Syrian crisis, not just the Turkish operation.”
“It should speak about the illegal military presence in that country,” he said in an apparent reference to U.S. troops in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to send troops into northeastern Syria for months. But the United States always opposed it, considering the Syrian Kurdish troops allies who had experienced heavy losses of life during the fight against Islamic State extremists.
At the tail end of a Sunday phone call between Erdogan and President Trump, Erdogan said the troops were finally preparing to advance.
It is unclear how Trump initially responded, but he soon announced the withdrawal of a small contingent of fewer than 100 troops that were helping the Kurdish forces. He is in effect getting them out of the line of fire, signaling he is unwilling to have Americans die for the Kurds. Republicans and Democrats have criticized the move as a betrayal of the Kurds, who fought alongside U.S. troops in the battle against the Islamic State and bore the brunt of the casualties.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the administration does not endorse Turkey’s military action, and Trump has threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” the country’s economy if it does anything he considers “off limits.”
The expressed goal of Turkey’s offensive, which began with airstrikes Wednesday, is to remove Kurdish forces from the border area and create a safe zone to relocate millions of Syrian refugees who have been living in Turkey, some for years.
Amid mounting criticism, Erdogan has threatened to open the borders to send millions of the Syrian refugees into Europe unless the governments stop calling the military action an invasion.
Hours after Erdogan’s threat, European diplomats at the United Nations issued some of the strongest words of condemnation.
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements,” they said in a statement read by Germany’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Jürgen Schulz. Before the meeting, he said Turkey’s military actions “threaten to unleash a catastrophe.”
Even as the divided Security Council was failing to reach consensus on a statement, European leaders were making their concerns known. Norway, a NATO ally of Turkey, said it would suspended all arms exports to that country.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Turkey will bear responsibility if the Islamic State reestablishes a caliphate in Syria.
“Turkey is putting millions of people at humanitarian risk,” Macron said at a news conference.
But Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the United Nations, struck a conciliatory note, even as she called on Turkey to use “restraint” and keep up the fight against the Islamic State, which she referred to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.
“We admire all the efforts Turkey has made in a humanitarian crisis,” she said. “It has been a heroic effort. Our main concern is it not deflect from the fight against Daesh.”