Tillerson’s visit to Turkey underlines severity of dispute over YPG: US State Department
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s planned visit to Turkey on Feb. 15 shows just how “serious this matter is,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Feb. 13, referring to the stark differences in Turkish and U.S. interests in Syria during the daily briefing.
“This is one of the areas of deep, deep concern on the part of the administration and the U.S. government,” Nauert told reporters in the U.S. capital.
“We certainly don’t want to see violence to further escalate,” she said.
Tillerson is set to visit the NATO ally bordering the Middle East with Syria on the agenda.
Recently, the two countries have been on board an escalating tension over the U.S. support given to the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey has been enraged by U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been waging an insurgency on Turkish soil for over 30 years. Washington has backed the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
Speaking in parliament on Feb. 13, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the U.S.’s continued cooperation with the YPG and a senior U.S. military official who vowed to respond to any Turkish attack in Manbij, which Turkey sees as its next target to remove the YPG from.
“It is clear that those who say ‘we will respond aggressively if you hit us’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” Erdoğan told his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies in parliament.
“We will destroy every terrorist we have seen, starting with the ones standing by their side. Then they will understand that it is better for them to not to stand alongside the terrorists,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also stated that Washington’s recent decision to continue funding the YPG will “affect Turkey’s decisions.” He suggested that although initial aid figures are estimated at $550 million, “information obtained by Ankara” indicates that this financial support “could increase to $3 billion.”
Erdoğan also questioned the U.S. struggle against ISIL. “How many Deash members have you killed?” he asked, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu again stressed that Turkey has “lost confidence” in the U.S., saying Ankara wants “action on the ground” rather than words. Speaking in a televised interview on Feb. 13, Çavuşoğlu complained about “different attitudes” in the State Department and the Pentagon.
Turkey last month launched an incursion into Syria, which it calls “Operation Olive Branch,” to sweep the YPG from its southern border. It has also threatened to press on to Manbij - currently under the control of a YPG-led force - and has warned American troops stationed there not to get in the way.
American troops would remain in the northern Syrian town of Manbij despite Ankara’s demands for a U.S. pullout, the top U.S. general in the coalition fighting ISIL pledged on Feb. 7.