Turkey seeks 'trust-based' ties with US despite row
ISTANBUL - Reuters
Senior Turkish officials have expressed Ankara’s willingness to re-build a trust-based relationship with the United States but have underlined its expectations to see concrete measures taken from its ally, particularly on its cooperation with a terror-affiliated group in Syria, in a direct message on the eve of two key visits from Washington in the coming days.
“These visits are important because we are in efforts to re-establish trust with the U.S. But these are in fact concrete steps to be taken by the U.S. to provide this trust,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın told reporters at a press conference on Feb. 7.
Kalın cited the U.S. partnership with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against the jihadists in Syria, despite Turkey’s recognition of the group as a terrorist band. The U.S. reluctance in the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, believed to be the mastermind behind the July 2016 coup attempt, as well as an ongoing court case against a Turkish state-bank, have also been cited by Kalın as issues straining ties between the two allies. “They do not suit the allied relationship between our countries,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to be in Ankara on Feb. 13 and U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is expected to be in Istanbul this weekend and will hold high-level talks with their counterparts. Tillerson will also be received by Erdoğan.
Ties between the two allies are passing through a dire strait over a number of issues with growing concerns that Turkish and American troops might come face to face in the Manbij province of Syria, if the YPG elements are not withdrawn from the area.
Ankara has been telling Washington the YPG should leave Manbij immediately and pull back to the eastern Euphrates, ever since the province has been liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There are currently a few hundred American troops along with the YPG in that region. Some Pentagon officials have defied Turkish calls to leave the region quickly.
Beyond Manbij, Turkey also called on the U.S. to end its partnership with the YPG and collect all weapons delivered to this group on the concerns they could be used against the Turkish people and the border.
“Our trust is damaged. We have to mend our trust. The contacts between us are important,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster TGRT Haber in an interview late Feb. 6.
“When Tillerson comes, we will share these ideas with him sincerely. We will share our expectations,” he said. “The U.S. should understand and meet our concerns.”
“You are cooperating with this terror organization [YPG] knowingly. And this poses a threat to us,” Çavuşoğlu added.
Erdoğan has said Turkish forces would push east toward the town of Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory 100 kilometers east of Afrin, where U.S. troops were deployed to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from clashing.
On Feb. 6, Erdoğan repeated his demand for U.S. forces to pull back from Manbij, and said the U.S. was setting itself up against Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia by arming the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a large part of northern Syria, which borders Turkey.