New CIA chief pays first visit abroad to Turkey
AP photoThe CIA’s new director, Mike Pompeo, will pay a visit to Turkey on Feb. 9 to discuss regional issues in his first overseas visit under the new U.S. administration.
Pompeo’s visit was decided during a 45-minute telephone conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan late on Feb. 7, according to officials from Erdoğan’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, İbrahim Kalın, said Turkey was the first leg of a broader regional trip for Pompeo, during which military operations in Syria’s al-Bab and Raqqa will be discussed.
Pompeo’s visit comes a little more than one day after Trump and Erdoğan’s telephone conversation, a first since Trump’s inauguration in Jan. 20.
Trump reiterated support for Turkey “as a strategic partner and NATO ally” during the phone call with Erdoğan, the offices of both leaders said.
Trump also spoke about the two countries’ “shared commitment to combating terrorism in all its forms” and welcomed Turkey’s contributions to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the White House said.
The two leaders emphasized that Turkey and the United States were friends and allies, a statement from the Turkish Presidency said.
Commenting on the phone conversation, Kalın told private broadcaster NTV on Feb. 8 in an interview that the call was conducted in a positive atmosphere, during which they talked about regional issues.
These issues include the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the two issues that remain strained from the previous Barack Obama administration, namely, the U.S.’ support for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in its fight against ISIL and the U.S.’ reluctance at handing over U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a July 2016 failed coup attempt, to Turkey.
The leaders decided that Turkish and U.S. teams should work on these issues, Kalın said.
The two NATO allies are at odds over U.S. support for the PYD and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the PYD, both of which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization due to their links to the PKK.
Kalın said Erdoğan conveyed his desire to establish a “terror-free safe zone” in Syria to Trump.
Contrary to his predecessor, Trump has backed the establishment of a safe zone in Syria in order to tackle the refugee crisis caused by the six-year-old war in the county, though the details of his concept of a safe zone remain unknown.
“We envision the establishment of the Azaz-Jarablus-al-Bab line as a safe zone,” said Kalın, adding that the U.S. administration viewed the proposal positively.
Kalın said Turkey was in talks with Russia to coordinate troop movements around the northern Syrian town of al-Bab to avoid any encounter with the Syrian military.
Syrian government forces and Turkish-backed opposition fighters are in a race to seize the town of al-Bab from ISIL.
Kalın said an undersecretary from the Turkish Foreign Ministry would head to Washington in the coming days to hold talks over the issues discussed over the phone between Trump and Erdoğan.
Kalın said the two leaders had agreed to meet in person soon and that a date would be scheduled.