Turkey, US to fine-tune ties ahead Erdoğan-Obama meet
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARATurkey and the United States are looking to iron out disagreements that have been exacerbated after the Turkish military targeted Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces in northern Syria on the eve of a crucial meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama in China.
The two presidents are expected to meet in Guangzhou on Sept. 4 on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, a week-and-a-half after Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to the Turkish capital to express his administration’s support for Turkish democracy after the coup attempt of July 15.
This high-level meeting between the two NATO allies comes at a time when their bilateral relations are passing through a difficult period due to two major issues: The Gülen crisis and the disagreement over the PYD’s status.
As such, U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu met on Sept. 1 in Ankara to conduct a general assessment on issues that concern both sides, the Hürriyet Daily News learned from diplomatic sources.
The meeting between two senior diplomats was focused on the agenda of the upcoming presidential meeting with an emphasis on mutual efforts to avoid misunderstandings on sensitive issues.
It also followed a phone conversation between the two diplomats on Aug. 30 in which Sinirlioğlu expressed Ankara’s concerns over statements by senior U.S. officials that depicted Turkey and the PYD as equal sides that had reached a cease-fire agreement.
Contrary to initial reports, Bass was not summoned to the Foreign Ministry, as Sinirlioğlu conveyed his messages over the phone.
PYD withdrawing to east of Euphrates
One of the primary bones of contention in Turkey-U.S. ties has long been the role of the PYD in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Syria. Backed by the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition’s air support, the PYD forces, which constitute an important part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), liberated Manbij from the jihadists two weeks ago.
However, Syrian Kurdish forces have shown an unwillingness to withdraw their forces to the east of the river despite Biden’s warning that the PYD would cease receiving support from the U.S. if it fails to do so.
Turkey’s military intervention into northern Syria to remove ISIL terrorists from the Turkish border has further complicated the situation as it also targeted PYD forces by advancing toward Manbij with threats to use force against the group.
According to diplomatic sources, the vast majority of the PYD forces had already withdrawn from Manbij as of late Aug 31 while a small group of its forces have been providing security for the liberated city.
Sources see this as an important development to avoid further escalation of tension in the region through an armed conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey regards the PYD as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and, therefore, a terror organization, but much of the international community has recognized it as a legitimate political party efficiently fighting against ISIL.
In addition to the U.S., other members of the coalition, as well as regional countries like Russia and Iran, have expressed concerns and urged the parties not to escalate tension in an already unstable Syria.
Gülen saga unlikely to be resolved soon
Meanwhile, Erdoğan is expected to restate Turkey’s demand that Fethullah Gülen, the alleged leader of the failed July 15 coup attempt, be extradited to Turkey on the grounds that he poses a great danger to the people and democracy of Turkey.
Obama, however, is expected to echo Biden, who recalled that extradition decisions belong to U.S. federal courts.
The U.S. did recently send a technical delegation to Turkey to work on the extradition case in a bid to show Washington’s willingness to cooperate with the Turkish government on the issue.