US, Turkey should avoid any clashes in northern Syria: Pompeo
WASHINGTON – Anadolu Agency
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 24 said he hopes that U.S. and Turkish forces will avoid any risk from close encounters in northern Syria, emphasizing the importance on solving bilateral issues.
One of the main issues would be northern Syria, where most U.S. troops in the country are deployed, said Pompeo speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on June 4.
This January, Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin, northern Syria to clear terrorist groups from the area. After liberating the city of Afrin, Ankara said it might also extend its operation further east to Manbij, unless the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) leave the strategically located city.
However, U.S. military support for the YPG in Manbij has strained ties between Ankara and Washington, and has led to fears of military clashes between the two NATO allies, since there are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in the city.
The YPG is considered as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by Turkey.
Pompeo also stated that a roadmap in line with the context of negotiations held during the tenure of Rex Tillerson, his predecessor, has been drawn.
US seeks return of pastor
Additionally, Pompeo said he also brought up the issue of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is facing terror charges in Turkey, and had asked Çavuşoğlu to return him to the U.S.
Describing the charges against Brunson as “completely wrong,” Pompeo said his department is working hard to get Brunson home.
Arrested in İzmir, Turkey in December 2016, Brunson is charged with committing crimes on behalf of the PKK terror group and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the group behind the defeated coup attempt of July 2016.
Talks on S-400 deal continue
When asked about Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, Pompeo said talks are continuing to change Ankara’s mind.
He claimed the purchase would strain ties between Turkey and NATO due to military incompatibility, saying the U.S. had offered an alternative to the S-400.
“We are pressing diplomatically to make clear, we are trying to provide them alternatives as well,” said Pompeo.
“We are trying to do the things that will encourage them to come back,” said the secretary of state.
Under its agreement with Russia—reached after a disagreement over the purchase of the U.S.-made air missile system Patriot—Turkey is to buy two S-400 systems, due for delivery in late 2019-early 2020.