Turkey: New energy is needed in US ties
ANKARANew energy is needed in ties with the U.S., the Turkish government has said during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official visit to the capital Ankara, voicing hope for “concrete steps” particularly in the fight against jihadists in Syria and the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
“It’s vital for us to give a new energy to the Turkey-U.S. relationship. Turkey and the U.S. have an important role to play regarding the challenges they face. Our area of responsibility is not limited to our respective regions, it is about all problems and opportunities across the world. That’s why the Turkey-U.S. friendship should be stronger than ever,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a joint press conference with Tillerson in Ankara on March 30.
The secretary of state was paying a one-day visit to Ankara, where he held extensive talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Çavuşoğlu. He did not meet opposition party leaders during the trip, but paid a visit to the Ankara mausoleum of the Turkish Republic’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Çavuşoğlu described Tillerson’s visit as an indication of the importance attached to ties with Turkey by the U.S., underlining that the two allies should be much more influential in dealing with issues of concern to both.
Tillerson underscored the role that Turkey has been playing in its region as a NATO ally since 1952, vowing that the Trump administration was eager to continue to build ties with Turkey. He stressed that “three main goals” he was focused on during his talks in Ankara were defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), bringing stability to the region, and boosting bilateral economic ties.
‘Concrete steps’ needed in anti-ISIL fight
Çavuşoğlu noted that Ankara had “problems” with the Obama administration on “two main issues,” on which it was expecting better cooperation with the Trump leadership.
“One of the issues was the cooperation and support given to the PYD/YPG while fighting the DAESH,” he said. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), as terror organizations and has long been pressing Washington to stop its alliance with the group in the fight against ISIL.
“In this period, we expect a better cooperation. We have once again shared our view with our friend that cooperating with one terror organization in fighting another terror group is wrong and unrealistic, and will impose more risks for the future of Syria,” Çavuşoğlu said.
“If we cannot defeat a terror organization of 10,000 to 20,000 men, if we are in a need of another terror band to defeat them, then we should check ourselves,” he added, noting that the anti-ISIL coalition is composed of 68 countries, mostly NATO members.
Tillerson: Though choices
The top U.S. diplomat, however, sought to avoid delivering direct answers to questions on the projected PYD role in the upcoming operation to take Raqqa, but acknowledged that Washington faced “difficult choices” in the anti-ISIL campaign.
Tillerson said there was “no space” between Turkey and the United States in their determination to defeat ISIL, stressing that “Turkey will remain a key partner for stabilization efforts” in the region.
“What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options. Let me be very frank, it’s not easy. Difficult choices have to be made,” he added.
Turkey stops foreign fighters: US
Praising the role Turkey has played in stopping foreign fighters’ mobilization to and from Europe via its territory, Tillerson said he was focused on the creation of “stabilization zones” in Syria, adding that a number of options on how to secure such areas were being explored.
On a question about the future of Syria, Tillerson said there was more discussion to be had on the way forward, but stressed that the status of President Bashar al-Assad would be decided by the Syrian people.
He also cited Iran’s “disruptive role” in the region as a common concern of Ankara and Washington, without further elaborating.
Temporary detention of Gülen sought
Another area of tension between the two allies is the status of Gülen and his loyalists, and Çavuşoğlu referred to Gülen’s continued presence in the U.S. despite Ankara’s continued efforts to secure his extradition.
“We have submitted all the evidence we have to the previous and current administrations. We have also put forward our demand for temporary detention and extradition,” he said, noting that he presented new documents to new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session in his most recent visit to Washington.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey was now expecting “concrete moves” from the Trump administration on the issue