Ankara(ANN)-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he would not meet with US Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo during their visit to Ankara to discuss a ground offensive by his country’s military forces and allied militants against Kurdish forces in the northern part of Syria.

“I am standing tall. I will not meet with them,” he told Sky News television news network on Wednesday.

“They will meet with their counterparts. I will speak when (US President Donald) Trump comes,” he added.

Later in the day, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun wrote on his official Twitter page that Erdogan would receive US officials led by Pence, who are travelling to Ankara in the hope of convincing him to halt the military offensive in northeast Syria.

“Earlier today, the President told @SkyNews that he won’t receive a US delegation that is visiting Ankara today. He does plan to meet the US delegation led by @VP (Pence),” Altun wrote.

‘Turkey to retaliate against US bans over Syria assault’

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey will retaliate against US sanctions over his country’s military incursion into northeast Syria.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Cavusoglu described all threats and sanctions against Turkey as unacceptable, adding that Ankara expected the US Congress to turn back from its “damaging approach.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 11, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

The top Turkish diplomat noted that ties between Ankara and Washington were at a critical juncture, emphasizing that he would convey this to the coming US officials.

On Trump, Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey over Ankara’s military operation in northeast Syria, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

The sanctions apply to individuals, entities or associates of the Turkish government involved in “actions that endanger civilians or lead to the further deterioration of peace, security and stability in northeast Syria,” Pompeo said in a statement. 

637 terrorists ‘neutralized’ by Turkish operation

The Turkish Defense Ministry also said on Wednesday that a total of 637 Kurdish militants from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) had been neutralized ever since Turkey’s operation in northern Syria started.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” to imply the terrorists in question surrendered or were killed or captured.

Turkey criticizes France over request for UEFA sanction

In another development, Turkey’s Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu criticized a request by his French counterpart Roxana Maracineanu for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) sanctions on the Turkish national football team for performing a military salute.

“l call on UEFA to act sensibly on this investigation request,” Kasapoğlu told a press conference, stressing that French star Antoine Griezmann gave a similar salute in June.

“Whoever said nothing about Griezmann’s military salute is trying to distort our footballers’ grateful salute,” the Turkish minister pointed out.

Turkish footballers celebrated their goal in a 1-1 draw against world champions France during a UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier at Stade de France in Saint-Denis with a military salute to soldiers fighting in northeast Syria on Monday night.

Turkish players salute at the end of the UEFA Euro 2020 Group H qualification football match between France and Turkey at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on October 14, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Olivier Giroud scored for France in the 75th minute of the showdown before Kaan Ayhan equalized for Turkey six minutes later. His teammates then lined up in front of the away supporters and saluted.

Maracineanu later tweeted that the salute was “contrary to the spirit of sports,” and demanded UEFA take action against Turkey.

On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984. The YPG constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).