Turkey's ties with US improving despite YPG row: Top diplomat
Serkan Demirtaş - GENEVA
The relationship between Turkey and the United States made progress in the last two months and observed a change in the bilateral atmosphere, the Turkish foreign minister has said, although stressing that there is still a way ahead for the resolution of the YPG and FETÖ problems between the two allies.
“The atmosphere in bilateral ties is very different since the release of Pastor [Andrew] Brunson although we still have a difference of opinion on certain issues. We have made progress on some issues. The implementation of the Manbij road map has accelerated. The prosecutor in the U.S. has withdrawn his appeal on the [former deputy manager of Halkbank] Hakan Atilla case. It’s a very important development,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a group of journalists on his return from Geneva late Dec. 18.
There are positive developments in other aspects of Turkish-American ties although the rows on the U.S. partnership with the YPG in eastern Syria and the extradition of FETÖ’s leader, Fethullah Gülen, continue, the foreign minister said.
“But if you ask me whether the atmosphere in our ties is much better in comparison with two months ago, I would respond ‘Much, much better.’ But is the point we have arrived at satisfactory? No. There is still a road we have to go in the next 100 days ahead of us,” he said, referring to his government’s 100-day plan that includes the advancement in ties with the U.S.
Çavuşoğlu also informed about U.S. President Donald Trump’s wish to pay a visit to Turkey in the coming period.
Ties between Turkey and the U.S. have drastically worsened mid-2018 because of the continued detention of Brunson over terror charges, leading to a personal anger of Trump and to sanctions against Turkey. The release of Brunson on Oct. 12 resulted in a gradual normalization of ties, although sharp disagreements over the YPG and FETÖ remain to be problems. Turkey considers the YPG as the Syrian branch of the PKK and therefore as terrorists and calls on the U.S. to cease its alliance with the group under the pretext of fighting against ISIL.
‘Our target is the YPG, not the US’
A fresh tension has, however, flared up recently as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to conduct a military operation into the east of Syria where the YPG has the control accompanied by American troops. U.S. has openly opposed to Turkey’s initiative.
“We say we don’t want to confront with the U.S. there. Our target is not the U.S. presence but the YPG/PKK. The U.S. should cease protecting the YPG,” Çavuşoğlu said, informing that these messages have already been conveyed to his counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Çavuşoğlu also stressed that military-to-military talks have also intensified in order to avoid a potential friendly fire between Turkish and American troops in the field.
The U.S. should push the YPG to withdraw from these areas if it wants Turkey not to enter eastern Syria, the Turkish minister said. “It’s very clear. The YPG should be taken out from there. This is what our Manbij road map tells us. Well, if we could have already implemented this road map, we would not today be exposed to this tension.”
Urging the U.S. against provocations by the YPG, Çavuşoğlu said, “I hope the U.S. policies in Syria will not be taken hostage by the YPG.”
On speculations that the U.S. was planning to separate the YPG from the PKK, the minister ruled out such possibility underlining that there was no difference between the two terror groups in the eyes of Ankara. “These regions should be cleared of the YPG/PKK. They can work with Kurdish groups that have engaged in terror,” he said.
‘We are close to a political settlement in Syria’
Although a constitutional committee tasked to write Syria’s new charter could not be finalized in the latest Geneva meeting in which Turkey, Russia and Iran participated along with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura, Çavuşoğlu informed that the works are expected to be accomplished early 2019.
“I may say that we are now at the cutting edge in regards to finding a political solution at this point of establishing the constitutional committee. We hope it will soon be formed,” he said, adding leaders of three countries will meet in Russia soon.
But the situation in the eastern Syria depicts a rather different course as it’s now under the control of the YPG, supported by the U.S. Çavuşoğlu acknowledged that there is a de facto situation there but the works conducted by three countries respond to the entire of Syria with the principle of protection of the territorial integrity of the war-torn country.
“There isn’t just the YPG/PKK in the east of Euphrates. There are Kurds, Turkmens and others. We, as the three guarantor countries, do not accept the de facto situation in the east of Syria. We are against the YPG controls there. We think it’s risky for the future of Syria,” he said.