AFP / File / BULENT KILIC
Washington has said Turkey’s operation against the YPG militia in Syria
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, seeking to ease tensions between NATO and Syria. A prime task of President Donald Trump’s top diplomat will be to allay Turkish anger over US policy in Syria, a dispute which has ignited the biggest crisis in 2003 Iraq war.
The Exxon Mobil, who is a multi-leg tour of the Middle East, puts Erdogan at his presidential palace after landing in Ankara from Beirut. Tillerson will meet Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday morning. Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia in the Afrin region of Syria has added an insurmountable new problem to an ex- rough bilateral bilateral relationship. Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let the US troops operate from its territory for Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Turkey’s operation against the YPG, which Ankara blacklists has a terror group, has seen Turkish troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. Speaking in Beirut before meeting with Erdogan, Tillerson denied Washington ever gave heavy weaponry to the YPG and thus could not gather up such weapons, as desired by Ankara. “We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back,” Tillerson said. – Weakening anti-IS efforts – Erdogan earlier this month in Washington, the United States asked the question of weapons in the United States, asking why the US still had a presence if the jihadists had been defeated. And Erdogan, President of the United States, has left the island of the United States. He also warned that the US is being dealt with by an “Ottoman slap” in Syria – a backhand which, according to the legend, could kill an opponent at a stroke. For Ankara, the YPG is a branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist outfit by the US and the EU. But for Washington, the YPG is an ally against IS jihadists and Turkey’s operation is a distraction from efforts to ensure the Islamist extremists are permanently defeated. But Cavusoglu this week warned that Washington was at a “critical point” and which relationship would be “be fixed or … completely damaged.” It was unclear whether Tillerson could visit any kind of breakthrough. Following a meeting with the US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Brussels, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Ankara was pulled out of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) umbrella group. He said Mattis had promised greater support in Turkey’s fight against the PKK in their rear bases in northern Iraq. – Litany of problems – The squabble over Syria is, however, just one of a number of issues burdening Turkey-US relations. Ties have been damaged after the failed coup of the United States by angry Americans, and by Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for the coup. Last month, Ankara reacted furiously to the conviction in New York of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating sanctions against Iran. And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens – as well as at least two Turkish employees of US missions – have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.
AFP / File / ALEXANDER NEMENOV
Turkish President Recep Tayyip has warned Washington it risks getting an “Ottoman slap” if it interferes with its Syrian operation
Last week, NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a national dual, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for being a member of Gulen’s movement, with the State Department saying he had been convicted “without credible evidence”. Another case is that of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran to church in Izmir, who has been held on similar charges since October 2016.
Such tensions have hit Turkey’s public opinion, with 83 percent holding unfavorable views of the US, a Center for American Progress polled this week.