US-Turkey ties going in positive direction amid anti-PKK cooperation: Senior US official
Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Strained relations between Ankara and Washington have started going in a positive direction in recent months amid “accelerated cooperation” against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a senior U.S. official in Ankara has stated.
“I’m feeling much more optimistic. I think there are good reasons to believe the relationship is moving in a position direction now. I think it’s clear that our leaders at the very top of our governments are committed to repairing our relationship. They saw that we can get very close to the edge and they want very much to rebuild the partnership that the U.S. and Turkey have enjoyed for more than half a century,” said the official.
The comments come after a period of very rocky relations, particularly over Washington’s ongoing partnership with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The official noted that outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was recently in Ankara and “made it clear that the U.S. is committed to finding a new security architecture in Syria in collaboration with the Turkish government that would address Turkey’s legitimate security needs,” adding that this process is underway.
“There is speculation that personnel changes in Washington will affect that. I can tell you that this directive comes from the top, from President Trump, and we are dedicated to finding a new path forward in Syria together with our Turkish allies,” said the official, referring to the transition period for the new secretary of state.
“We have also seen other areas of cooperation moving in a positive direction. For example on counterterrorism we had very useful talks recently on countering terrorist financing, which includes how to counter the PKK’s financing operations,” said the official.
Processes regarding the working groups established to solve problems between Washington and Ankara on a raft of issues are “underway” and there is “no real delay” due to the change in the State Department, the official claimed. He added that the “planning process” about the town of Manbij in Syria, where Turkey has urged the U.S. to secure the withdrawal of the YPG, is also underway.
‘No evidence’ in cases of detained US citizens and consulate staff
American pastor Andrew Brunson, jailed in Turkey for one-and-a-half years, is another key point of strain between Ankara and Washington. He is set to go on trial on April 16 and the U.S. government will be represented at the hearing if it is decided to hold the trial open to the public, according to the official, who reiterated his country’s concerns about detained U.S. citizens and local consulate employees in Turkey.
“We have never seen evidence that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any crime. We have never seen any evidence that the detained employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission are guilty of any crime. It’s our expectation is that the Turkish judicial system will do the right thing, which we respect. Justice will be done and these people will be able to go home,” the official said.
He stressed that the strong interest of the U.S. government, both the Trump administration and Congress, has been made “crystal clear” to the Turkish government.
“There is strong consensus in Congress over deep concern for U.S. citizens detained or arrested under the state of emergency [in Turkey] as well as U.S. government employees,” the official added, saying the detentions were made on “very slim evidence of crimes under the state of emergency.”
“If the state of emergency did not exist there is no way a Turkish judge would entertain these cases,” he said.
‘State of emergency no longer required’
The official emphasized that Washington “understands the need for the Turkish government to take extraordinary measures immediately after the coup attempt, but at this point the state of emergency should no longer be required.”
The Turkish judiciary and Turkish law enforcement is “strong enough that they should be able to defend Turkey without the special circumstances of the state of emergency,” the official said, also noting that emergency rule was having “negative effects on foreign investment.”
“In addition to the concerns of the people of Turkey, I have to say the international business community has been very concerned about it. We know there are international companies that have declined to invest in Turkey because of state of emergency concerns,” the official said.
Turkey ‘very interested in Patriots’
Meanwhile, discussions on U.S. Patriot missile defense systems are continuing between the two governments, said the official, touching on the U.S. missile defense systems that have come to the agenda amid Ankara’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 defense systems.
“The Turkish government is very interested in the Patriot option. It’s a well-tested system and it can be integrated into the entire NATO air defense network,” said the official.
“I am confident that if Turkey decides to buy Patriots instead of S-400s then Congress would view that favorably,” the official said, commenting on the possibility of Congress blocking the sale of Patriots.