Turkish PM to meet US VP Pence to discuss troubled ties
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım will meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Nov. 8 in a much-anticipated visit to the White House, during which they will discuss troubled bilateral ties, including the long-running crisis over mutual bans of visa applications for Turkish and U.S. nationals.
“The visit of our prime minister will constitute an important opportunity for highlighting Turkey’s economics and trade potential and for giving fundamental messages about our foreign policy, as well the role it plays in its region and in the world,” Prime Ministry sources told the Turkish media on Nov. 6.
Yıldırım’s visit between Nov. 7 and 10 to the Washington will constitute the highest-level encounter between the two allies since the U.S. announced a suspension of non-immigrant visas in its diplomatic missions in Turkey on Oct. 9.
The measure came after the arrest of Metin Topuz, a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul on terror charges and over alleged links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt.
Ahead of Yıldırım’s visit, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held two separate phone calls on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5, discussing the agenda of the Yıldırım-Pence meeting and trying to narrow differences in the visa crisis and other issues.
Despite hopeful messages from both sides, the visa measure has not been able to be resolved for the past four weeks. The two countries have announced the possibility of establishing a working committee on judicial issues but it is not yet officially announced.
The U.S. is demanding “quality information” on the arrest of its local employees and whether there are ongoing probes against any others. It is also concerned about the arrest of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, in jail for over one year over alleged links with the Gülen movement.
Three ministers to accompany Yıldırım
Prime Minister Yıldırım will reportedly be accompanied in Washington by Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.
After the meeting with Pence on Nov. 8, Yıldırım and his delegation will meet opinion-makers in Washington and New York, representatives of the Turkish community, and senior figures from the Muslim and Jewish communities, the media, investors and businesspeople, sources added.
Yıldırım and his team will return to Turkey on Nov 10.
The issues that Yıldırım and Pence will discuss will include the bilateral political, economic and military relationship, as well as regional developments in Syria and Iraq. Both Turkey and the U.S. opposed the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) bid to declare independence in September.
One top issue between the two leaders will be Turkey’s demand to extradite the Pennsylvania-based Gülen, who has been in self-exile in the U.S. since late 1990s. Turkey regards Gülen as the head of the Fethullah Gülen Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), which mastermind last year’s coup attempt, and officially applied for his extradition to Turkey. The U.S. has so far not responded positively to the extradition demand, stressing that the issue falls within the jurisdiction of federal courts.
Ankara emphasizes that Gülen’s network runs hundreds of charter schools in the U.S. and generates around half a billion dollars in revenue to sponsor FETÖ’s activities around the world.
Row over US support to YPG
Prime Minister Yıldırım will also bring the recent developments in Syria to the agenda, particularly the U.S.’s ongoing military support to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkish considers a terrorist organization directly linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The U.S. presents its cooperation with the YPG as a tactical alliance because the group has been actively fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since 2015, trying to assure Ankara that weapons given to the YPG will not be used against Turkey.