‘New day’ starts with US, says Turkish PM
AA photoTurkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has said that a new page in U.S.-Turkey relations is being opened with the new administration at the White House.
“We are opening a new page with the U.S. administration; they call it ‘new day,’” state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Yıldırım as saying on Feb. 19 in Munich, where he attended the Munich Security Conference.
Relations between the U.S. and Turkey mostly during the last year of former President Barack Obama’s tenure was tumultuous due to U.S. reluctance to hand back U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and differences on the designation of Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
While Turkey regards the PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), as terrorist organizations due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the U.S. sees them as a reliable partner in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Syria. The U.S. mainly supports the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is comprised mainly of YPG militia and some Arab forces, in the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition.
Yıldırım said Turkey’s fighting style in a possible Raqqa operation to liberate it from ISIL militants would be the same as in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab.
“We already have military elements in the region that support the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. Most probably they [the Turkish military elements] will give support,” said Yıldırım.
Answering a question on what Turkey would do if the new U.S. administration insisted on conducting the Raqqa operation with YPG forces and if Turkey would act on its own, Yıldırım said that he did not receive a vibe like that.
“I did not get such an impression. They are in an evaluation process; we need to see the result,” said Yıldırım, talking one day after a tête-à-tête with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Yıldırım said Feb. 18 that Turkey would be part of an operation to liberate Raqqa, though not directly and by giving tactical support, if a deal with U.S.-led coalition forces could be reached.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Feb. 19 that Turkey will clear ISIL from Raqqa if an agreement is reached with the U.S. and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the jihadist group.
Commenting on the latest situation in al-Bab, where Turkish forces and Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) members have been fighting since December last year against ISIL as part of Turkey’s ongoing Euphrates Shield Operation, Yıldırım said al-Bab had been taken under control and that a cleaning-up operation was being continued in the city.
“The supply roads [of ISIL to al-Bab] have been cut. That’s what’s important,” said Yıldırım.
He also said that even though the U.S. had promised that PYD forces would withdraw from Manbij, this had not yet been realized.
Turkey does not want PYD forces to go to the west of the Euphrates River, agreeing with the U.S. that PYD forces would leave the city and retreat to the east of the Euphrates following the town’s liberation from ISIL. The full withdrawal has not yet been realized, according to Turkey.
Meanwhile, Yıldırım also warned Iran about highlighting sectarian division in Syria, saying this could cause problems in Turkey-Iran relations, while also terming Iran as a historic neighbor of Turkey.