Our ally is Turkey, not the YPG: US official
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
The United States’ “real ally” in Syria is Turkey and not the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a senior U.S. official has said, stressing Washington’s commitment to re-building trust with its longstanding NATO ally despite scores of bilateral disagreements.
“We are very careful not to use that word [alliance] for the YPG. We are not using the YPG as an ally of the U.S. Our ally is Turkey and that is something that the Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson emphasized in his remarks in Ankara. We have a long-term, enduring, historic alliance and partnership with Turkey and that is not going to change,” a senior U.S. official told reporters in Ankara on March 1.
The remarks came a week before a joint Turkish-American mechanism is slated to meet in Washington to try to resolve existing problems between the two allies, particularly on Syria. Turkish diplomatic sources have said the mechanism will first meet on March 8 but the U.S. official was not in a position to confirm this.
One of the key issues between the two countries is the U.S.’s military cooperation with the YPG, a group that Ankara considers a terrorist organization because of its affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey launched a military operation on Jan. 20 to eliminate YPG militants from the northern Syrian district of Afrin.
“The U.S. has made it clear from the beginning that our military cooperation with the YPG was a temporary, tactical arrangement aimed entirely at combating DAESH [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]. We have made it clear that once DAESH was defeated we would have no plans for an enduring military relationship with the YPG and certainly no plans for an enduring political relationship with the Democratic Union Party [PYD]. That has not changed,” the official stated.
‘Committed to fulfilling promises on Manbij’
One immediate problem needs to be resolved is the continued presence of the YPG troops in Manbij, stationed with U.S. troops despite promises from Washington to Ankara that they would be withdrawn to east of the Euphrates.
“I think that our goal is for the American and Turkish governments to reach an agreement on how security can be provided in Manbij. But I cannot preemptively say what the outcome of this discussions would be. We certainly recognize that Turkey has a legitimate interest in the security infrastructure in northern Syria, which includes Manbij,” the official said.
“We remain committed to fulfilling our promises regarding the YPG presence in Manbij. It is a city with a lot of people and somebody has to provide security there but our intention is that will not be the YPG,” he added.
‘We hope Afrin op ends quickly’
On Turkey’s ongoing Afrin operation, the official repeated Washington’s position that it respects Turkey’s right to secure its borders and citizens, but also stressed that “we hope the operation Afrin will end quickly and we have said that we know that Turkey makes every effort to limit civilian casualties. We do not have any doubt about efforts in that regard.”
On suspicion in Turkey that the U.S. is simply trying to buy more time to continue its cooperation with the YPG, the official denied these suggestions.
“There is not some sort of diversion or delaying tactic or anything like that. I think that at the highest levels of my government people are deeply concerned with the poor state of relations between U.S. and Turkey and they very much want to fix that,” the official said.
“The sooner we can solve them the better. There are a lot of outside forces that enjoy seeing tension between the U.S. and Turkey and we don’t want to encourage that. The sooner we can get our relationship back to a position of trust and partnership the better,” he added.
‘No plans for autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria’
The official also reiterated Washington’s policy of protecting the territorial integrity and political unity in a future Syria.
“We have no ambitions to create any sort of autonomous zones within Syria. From time to time people suggest that we have some interest in creating a Syrian equivalent of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. That is not our policy. We have no such interest,” said the official.
‘Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned’
Another top issue that the joint mechanism between Ankara and Washington will deal with is the question of the many legal issues between the two countries, including the arrests of some U.S. citizens in Turkey and the arrest of local staff members serving at U.S. diplomatic missions.
“This is on the top of our agenda with the Turkish government,” said the official.
The official also reflected the position of the U.S. Congress with regard to these developments, saying both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress were “deeply concerned.”
“I would say that one of the areas where there is the closest degree and cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in the Congress is that they are very deeply concerned about the status of American citizens and employees of the U.S. government under the state of emergency. We feel that this needs to be resolved quickly in order to be able to move forward with other aspects of the relationship,” he said.