US, Turkey to speak on Syria, ISIL and PKK
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, talks during a meeting with Turkish civil society groups on first day of his visit to Turkey, in Istanbul, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (Murad Sezer/Pool Photo via AP)U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Turkey for a two-day visit to hold talks with the country’s president and prime minister regarding Syria, the international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Biden is expected to speak with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Jan. 23 over the Syrian war, the migrant crisis, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, the fight against the PKK, Turkish troops’ presence in Iraq’s north and the Cyprus issue.
One day before Biden and Erdoğan were scheduled to meet in Istanbul, Biden came together with parliamentarians and academics and representatives from NGOs in two separate meetings.
Biden stressed democracy and the importance of freedom of speech during these meetings.
He said the United States wanted to see Turkey set a “strong example” for the whole region of what a “vibrant democracy” means.
“The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom,” AFP reported Biden as saying.
“When the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when Internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down, and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that’s not the kind of example that needs to be set,” said Biden.
Biden, who met with lawmakers from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the morning hours of Jan. 22, said the U.S. supported Turkey in its fight against the PKK but that the current situation, in which the state has imposed curfews as long as one month in the country’s southern districts and launched an armed fight against the militants organization’s members, was not sustainable.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which was also invited to the meeting with Biden, refused to attend.
Biden also paid a visit to Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square, where on Jan. 12, 10 German tourists were killed when an ISIL suicide bomber detonated himself.
Erdoğan said they would broach the issue of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) with Biden in their meeting on Jan. 23, adding that Turkey insisted on not seeing the PYD as any different than ISIL and that they would not permit the PYD to cross to the west of the Euphrates River.
“We are sensitive about this issue and what we always tell the coalition forces is that the PKK, YPG [People’s Defense Units], PYD and Daesh are no different than each other, and we will have the same stance towards them,” Erdoğan told reporters on Jan. 22 after the Friday prayers, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Erdoğan said they would openly discuss the issues with Biden during his meeting, adding that he had previously brought the issue up with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Davutoğlu said Jan. 21 that Ankara objected to the inclusion of the PYD in Syrian peace talks on the side of the opposition, adding that it could sit on the same side of the table as the Syrian regime if it wished.
Responding to a question about Russia’s reported military presence in Syria’s Qamishli, across the border from the southeastern Turkish district of Nusaybin, Erdoğan said information that around 100 Russian soldiers had been deployed near the border had reached them but that they would not permit the emergence of a new “structure” along Turkey’s border from Iraq to the Mediterranean.
“Our sensitivity in the region continues in the same way,” said Erdoğan.