President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has said he returned a letter sent to him last month by President Trump that had implored him not to be a “tough guy” or a “fool” as he embarked on an offensive in northern Syria.
“This letter was re-presented to Mr. President this afternoon,” Mr. Erdogan said when asked by a reporter about the message during a joint news conference with Mr. Trump in Washington on Wednesday.
The comments were made during an outwardly warm meeting between the two leaders that comes at an especially fraught time for relations between their countries. Mr. Erdogan began an invasion of northern Syria last month, targeting Kurdish fighters once backed by the United States who were instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State.
Mr. Trump sent the letter on Oct. 9 urging against the military action, which came after American forces were abruptly pulled out of the region days earlier. Mr. Trump drew criticism for the decision to remove the troops, which many saw as a green light for Mr. Erdogan’s long-planned offensive.
Mr. Trump pointed to the letter as evidence that he was not supportive of Mr. Erdogan’s approach.
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Mr. Trump said in the letter. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later.”
Mr. Erdogan went ahead with his plan despite the warning, drawing ire from many in the United States, including members of Congress who made plans for sanctions against Turkey. He also criticized the letter, telling reporters in Istanbul, “We will not forget this lack of respect.”
The Turkish government considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists because of their links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has mounted a violent separatist campaign in Turkey for decades.
During the news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan went on to denounce the Kurdish leader of the Syrian forces that once helped the United States battle the Islamic State, Mazlum Kobani — referring to him by his given name, Ferhat Abdi Sahin.
“This individual, Ferhat Abdi Sahin, has been instrumental in the killings of hundreds of Turkish civilians,” Mr. Erdogan said. “A person like this should not be welcomed by a country such as the United States.”
Mr. Erdogan later returned to discussion of the letter, noting for a second time, “We gave back the letter that we have received.”
The Syrian incursion is not the only pain point in the relationship between the Turkey and the United States. Turkey’s recent purchase of the advanced Russian S-400 antiaircraft missile system has also upset many in Washington.
Mr. Erdogan also met on Wednesday with five Republican senators — Joni Ernst of Iowa, Jim Risch of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — in an attempt to repair the bilateral relationship.
Mr. Scott said, “We know that there’s issues that we’re dealing with right now, but the goal — my goal here and I think all of our goal here — is, at the end of this meeting, we’re in a better position where we’re better allies.”
Despite the recent tensions, Mr. Trump has long expressed admiration for the strongman Turkish leader and the two have found common ground in the past. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump pointed to a cease-fire between Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led militia in northern Syria as a sign of progress.
“I’m a big fan of the president, I have to tell you that,” Mr. Trump said of the Turkish leader. “And I know that the cease-fire, while complicated, is moving forward and moving forward at a very rapid clip.”