Turkey, US should set up action base in Syria: Ex-CIA chief Panetta

Turkey, US should set up action base in Syria: Ex-CIA chief Panetta

Nalan Koçak - Istanbul

Turkey and the U.S. should establish a base of action in a planned safe zone in Syria in order to ensure that “Syria goes in the right direction,” former Pentagon and CIA chief Leon Panetta has told Hürriyet Daily News in a telephone interview. 

“It has always been a complicated relationship between the U.S. and Turkey and how we deal with the Kurds going back to the Iraq War. Somehow, because we have always had a good relationship with our ally Turkey, we have been able to work through these differences. I remain confident that we can do that again,” Panetta said on Jan. 16.

Panetta had served as the head of Pentagon between 2011 and 2013. Prior to that, he was director of the CIA from 2009 to 2011. According to Panetta, Turkey and the U.S. can overcome problems stemming from Washington’s relations with the YPG, the Syrian branch of the illegal PKK.

He believes the reason behind Washington protecting the YPG is because it had promised to protect the group which has fought ISIL on the ground in Syria. The fundamental “problem” is the U.S. worked with the YPG once, “it has supported them in the effort to defeat ISIS. And we have in that process given them our word that we will protect them,” he said, using another acronym for ISIL.

When asked if he thinks it is possible for Washington to enjoy good relations with Ankara while it protects the YPG, he said: “I believe that if there continues to be dialogue between our countries, we won’t see a breakdown of our relationship. I think that bond between the U.S. and Turkey is strong enough we can successfully deal with this challenge diplomatically.”

Speaking about Turkey’s plan of a safe zone in Syria, he suggested: “I think that both Turkey and the U.S. have an interest in not allowing Iran, [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and the Russians to dominate what happens in Syria. And recognizing that common goal I think the U.S. and Turkey can work together to establish safe zones in Syria not only to confront ISIS and terrorism in those areas, but also establish a base of action in order to ensure that Syria goes in the right direction.”

Panetta said that he is very concerned about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, especially after the Jan. 16 attack in Manbij. “I am very concerned about any kind of precipitated withdrawal from Syria because of the ISIS threat. President Trump is very unpredictable in all of his decisions. I am sure that his defense advisers and his national security adviser will indicate that in light of this attack it would be a serious mistake to move forward with any kind of withdrawal.”

According to Panetta, there is a chaotic process in the White House especially when it comes to foreign policy decisions.

“I think the fundamental problem with the way this president conducts foreign policy is that he will go ahead and tweet a position without going through a process within the administration of allowing those defense and national security advisers to give him a full picture of what the consequences of that kind of decision will be. And so what happens is he goes ahead and makes a decision. And then those around him try to delay that decision,” he stressed.

Turkey-US discussions will reveal views on safe zone: Turkish FM