Turkey-US meeting postponed due to Tillerson’s exit: Turkish Foreign Ministry
A meeting between Turkey and the U.S. that was scheduled to take place on March 19 on the issue of the Syrian province of Manbij has been postponed after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was sacked, the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson has said.
The change in the State Department came as ties between Turkey and the United States are going through turbulence amid disagreements over various issues. Tillerson paid a key visit to Ankara in February aiming to mend ties, agreeing to form joint mechanisms to resolve differences on Syria and bilateral matters.
“The framework we agreed is binding for the U.S. administration,” Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in a televised interview on March 15.
He stressed that Tillerson and President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster have recently paid visits to Turkey as officials authorized by the U.S. president.
The transition process between Tillerson and new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is “not crucial” with regards to the recent talks of the Turkey-U.S. working group in Washington on the issue of Syria and the period will only make a “lose of a couple of weeks” for two countries in the process, Kalın noted.
“The important thing is who the U.S. decides will be its ally in the mid to long-term,” he said, referring to the U.S. military’s partnership with the Syrian Kurds in Syria.
“The main question here is whether the U.S. will take steps to overcome the crisis of confidence,” Kalın said, stressing that Ankara attaches importance to the “practice” of measures agreed by the working groups.
The first meeting at the technical level took place last week in Washington, where the two sides discussed a model to be implemented in Manbij. Turkey has long been pressing the U.S. to push the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to withdraw from Manbij to east of the Euphrates river.
Tillerson had visited Ankara last month in a bid to restore dialogue. The outcome of his two-day talks with the Turkish leadership was to establish a mechanism between Ankara and Washington that would immediately tackle disputed issues through three working groups on the issues of fighting terror in Syria and Iraq, Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, the judiciary (including U.S. citizens arrested in Turkey), and the implications of the Turkish government’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-missile systems.
Elaborating on the outcomes of the first round of working group meetings on March 8-9, Çavuşoğlu said on March 13 that Turkey and the U.S. will oversee the withdrawal of YPG militants from Manbij, adding that Turkish and U.S. soldiers will provide security for the region.
The YPG group will not have a presence in the local administration of Manbij and the administration will operate according to the local population, Çavuşoğlu said, noting that Manbij would serve as an administration model for other towns over which the YPG has assumed control following its advance in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“We will try this model in Manbij first and later in other places. East of the Euphrates, Raqqa and other places under the control of the YPG are included in this plan. So the area from the east of Euphrates to Deir Ezzor and the regions controlled by the Syrian regime will become safe havens,” he added.
The meeting was announced shortly before U.S. President Trump on March 13 announced the departure of his head diplomat Rex Tillerson, who will be succeeded by the current CIA chief Mike Pompeo.
Ankara still expects the meeting will take place with Pompeo in due course, a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Ankara sees the issue of Manbij as a test for the U.S.’s resolve to normalize bilateral relations so they can resume cooperating in Syria again. The U.S., for its part, is focused on ways to maintain the security of the Manbij region, which Tillerson described as “strategic.”