Turkey, US pledge to improve ties in Yıldırım, Pence meeting

Turkey, US pledge to improve ties in Yıldırım, Pence meeting

Murat Yetkin - NEW YORK
Turkey, US pledge to improve ties in Yıldırım, Pence meeting

Ankara and Washington have pledged a new era in mutual ties following the meeting of Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, amid a number of rifts between the two NATO allies.

“The leaders expressed hope that their meeting would help to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Turkey relations and agreed on the need for constructive dialogue, as friends and Allies, on bilateral challenges,” the White House said in a statement following the Washington meeting on Nov. 9.

The meeting, which lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half longer than scheduled, was “very fruitful,” said Yıldırım, adding that the two parties decided to “maintain dialogue.”

“We talked over our problems sincerely and honestly,” Yıldırım told reporters following the meeting.

“We have decided to maintain dialogue. We agreed to try to resolve problems with instant touches via telephone. I observed that the vice president has a positive look toward Turkey,” he said.


Close watch on YPG guns

One of the key matters between the two allies is the U.S. support to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group for its links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The U.S. backs the YPG in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We spoke bluntly on the YPG issue,” Yıldırım said, adding that the U.S. understands Turkey’s sensitivity on the matter.

He again said it was time for the U.S. to put an end to the support to the YPG now that ISIL has almost completely been defeated. He reiterated Turkey’s concerns that arms sent to the YPG end up in the hands of the PKK, as Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli also stressed to U.S. Defense Minister Jim Mattis earlier in the day.

Pence said cooperation with the YPG would “only be short term” and Washington will closely track its weapons, according to Yıldırım.


Visa crisis

Ahead of Yıldırım’s visit to the U.S., the two countries mutually decided to ease a visa crisis that emerged after the arrest of two Turkish-citizen employees of the U.S. Istanbul Consulate.

Yıldırım downplayed the crisis, saying the issue was “returning to normal.”

The suspension came after the arrest of U.S. staffer Metin Topuz, accused by police of having ties to the network of Fethullah Gülen, the top suspect in the cases into the July 2016 coup attempt.


Turkey ‘did not violate Iran sanctions’

Meanwhile, Yıldırım also touched on the ongoing case against Iranian-origin Turkish citizen Reza Zarrab and a Turkish public bank official, Hakan Attila, on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, as well as the arrest warrant against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan.

“We said in the meeting that these cases are poisoning the Turkey-U.S. ties,” Yıldırım said, referring to “judicial processes in two sovereign countries.”

Yıldırım said he told Pence that evidence in the case of Zarrab was “unlawfully collected” and several members of judicial cadre who collected the evidence in Turkey are now facing charges over links to Gülen.

“In addition, we said this case should not be regarded as a violation of the U.S. sanctions on Iran,” he added.

Turkey demands the extradition of Gülen and Yıldırım said he told Pence that Ankara wants to see “concrete steps” on the issue, adding that “we want the U.S. to restrict their activities.”

On the U.S. side, Washington demands the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was arrested in Turkey over alleged links to the Gülen network.

Yıldırım told journalists Pence raised U.S. concerns about the trial.

“We noted that the principles of a state of law rules in both the U.S. and Turkey,” Yıldırım said.


US ‘should back Baghdad’

Pence praised Turkey for its “strong will” in the problems that emerged after the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) independence referendum in late September, a bid that the autonomous administration has already stepped back from following international reaction and a strong Baghdad response.

Both Ankara and Washington had declared their opposition to the KRG leader Massoud Barzani’s failed bid.

In response to Pence, Yıldırım said Ankara demanded further support to the central Iraqi government under Haidar al-Abadi.

The two countries will fight against ISIL, he also said, adding that Turkey called on the U.S. to take a “more active role in Syria and in deeper cooperation with Turkey.”

Yıldırım and Pence “highlighted the United States’ and Turkey’s mutual interest in stability and security in the Middle East and agreed to further intergovernmental consultations toward that end,” read the White House statement.

Pence thanked Yıldırım for Turkey’s contributions to global security and the fight to defeat ISIL, and he underscored the U.S. commitment to stand with Turkey against the PKK and other terrorist threats.

“The Vice President expressed deep concern over the arrests of American citizens, Mission Turkey local staff, journalists, and members of civil society under the state of emergency and urged transparency and due process in the resolution of their cases,” the statement said.