Tillerson in Turkey to ease Syria rift

Cavusoglu warned that US support for the YPG had harmed relations. Erdogan has hopes of hitting it off with new US President Donald Trump.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive for a meeting in Ankara, on March 30th. (AFP)


2017/04/02 Issue: 100 Page: 16




London - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkish President Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan March 30th to shore up support from a NATO ally that has edged closer to Russia, is at odds with European powers and re­mains vehemently opposed to the US strategy of helping a Kurdish group drive the Islamic State (ISIS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa.

A populist, Erdogan has hopes of hitting it off with new US President Donald Trump.

Turkey’s drift towards Russia and growing rift with Europe may not greatly trouble Trump but the big issue dividing the countries with the two biggest armies in NATO is US support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have spearheaded the drive towards Raqqa in Iraq and appear central to Washington’s strategy of defeating the jihadist group in Syria.

At his Senate confirmation hear­ings in January, Tillerson called the Kurds “our greatest allies” in Syria, a sentiment repeated by US administration officials. Ankara, however, is furious at US backing for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Par­ty (PKK), a separatist group fight­ing Turkey since 1984.

“Let me be very frank, it’s not easy; there are difficult choices that have to be made,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that followed a 2-hour meeting with Erdogan.

Despite his pre-election boast of having a “secret plan” to defeat ISIS, Trump has largely continued the Obama administration’s strate­gy of backing Syrian Kurdish forces with air strikes.

Though no announcement has been made, after a review of its ISIS strategy, the Trump adminis­tration appears to have rebuffed Turkey’s offer to extend its mili­tary push into northern Syria that began in August and advance to­wards Raqqa.

Turkey’s Operation Euphra­tes Shield drove ISIS back from a 100km stretch of Turkey’s border with Syria and drove a wedge be­tween YPG forces hoping to unite their territory and control most of the Turkish frontier.

After taking the towns of Jarabu­lus, Dabiq and al-Bab from ISIS, the Turkish operation stalled at Kurdish-held Manbij. The deploy­ment in early March of a small group of US forces among the Kurdish defenders of the city may have helped to halt the Turkish ad­vance.

“Operation Euphrates Shield is successful and is finished,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim de­clared on the eve of Tillerson’s vis­it. Turkish media said 71 Turkish soldiers were killed in the 7-month operation.

While insisting Turkey and the United States shared a com­mitment to defeat ISIS, Tillerson said he had explored “a number of options and alternatives” with Turkish leaders for the operation against Raqqa.

Cavusoglu warned that US sup­port for the YPG had harmed re­lations. “It is not good or realistic to work with a terror group while fighting another terror group,” he said.

Turkey is frustrated at the US failure to extradite Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric and former Er­dogan ally Fethullah Gulen to face charges of masterminding a failed July coup. Ankara is also angry about the US arrests of Turkish- Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab and a Turkish banker accused of subverting US sanctions on Iran.

Through his Hizmet movement’s control of hundreds of schools across Turkey and the world, Gu­len placed followers in Turkey’s civil service, judiciary and military as it helped Erdogan’s party rise to power and dominance from 2002.

However, Hizmet split with Er­dogan in 2013 when prosecutors linked to Gulen launched corrup­tion investigations into relatives of government ministers, accus­ing them, among other things, of helping Iran avoid US sanctions. Erdogan fired the prosecutors and the cases were dropped.

Germany’s intelligence chief and the British parliament’s For­eign Affairs Committee have said they were not convinced that Gu­len was behind the coup attempt but Cavusoglu said Turkey had presented evidence to the United States and called on prosecutors there to “evaluate the documents meticulously”.

Ankara has grounds for opti­mism the Trump administration will seek an outcome favourable to Turkey. Former CIA director James Woolsey said that ousted US national security adviser Michael Flynn had been paid to lobby for Turkey while assisting the Trump campaign.

The Trump administration on March 11th fired US Prosecutor for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who was respon­sible for the arrest of Zarrab, the focus of the so-called gold-for-gas operation to skirt US sanctions on Iran. Erdogan, whose son-in-law has been implicated in the alleged conspiracy, has publicly defended Zarrab and accused Bharara of be­ing entertained by Gulen followers in the United States.

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former US attorney general Michael Mukasey, both staunch Trump supporters, have been hired as part of Zarrab’s defence team.

“We are expecting concrete steps,” Cavusoglu said, referring to Gulen’s extradition. “We need to take mutual steps to put rela­tions with the United States back on track.”

Tillerson in Turkey to ease Syria rift

Cavusoglu warned that US support for the YPG had harmed relations. Erdogan has hopes of hitting it off with new US President Donald Trump.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive for a meeting in Ankara, on March 30th. (AFP)

The Arab Weekly staff

London

U S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkish President Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan March 30th to shore up support from a NATO ally that has edged closer to Russia, is at odds with European powers and re­mains vehemently opposed to the US strategy of helping a Kurdish group drive the Islamic State (ISIS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa.

A populist, Erdogan has hopes of hitting it off with new US President Donald Trump.

Turkey’s drift towards Russia and growing rift with Europe may not greatly trouble Trump but the big issue dividing the countries with the two biggest armies in NATO is US support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have spearheaded the drive towards Raqqa in Iraq and appear central to Washington’s strategy of defeating the jihadist group in Syria.

At his Senate confirmation hear­ings in January, Tillerson called the Kurds “our greatest allies” in Syria, a sentiment repeated by US administration officials. Ankara, however, is furious at US backing for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Par­ty (PKK), a separatist group fight­ing Turkey since 1984.

“Let me be very frank, it’s not easy; there are difficult choices that have to be made,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that followed a 2-hour meeting with Erdogan.

Despite his pre-election boast of having a “secret plan” to defeat ISIS, Trump has largely continued the Obama administration’s strate­gy of backing Syrian Kurdish forces with air strikes.

Though no announcement has been made, after a review of its ISIS strategy, the Trump adminis­tration appears to have rebuffed Turkey’s offer to extend its mili­tary push into northern Syria that began in August and advance to­wards Raqqa.

Turkey’s Operation Euphra­tes Shield drove ISIS back from a 100km stretch of Turkey’s border with Syria and drove a wedge be­tween YPG forces hoping to unite their territory and control most of the Turkish frontier.

After taking the towns of Jarabu­lus, Dabiq and al-Bab from ISIS, the Turkish operation stalled at Kurdish-held Manbij. The deploy­ment in early March of a small group of US forces among the Kurdish defenders of the city may have helped to halt the Turkish ad­vance.

“Operation Euphrates Shield is successful and is finished,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim de­clared on the eve of Tillerson’s vis­it. Turkish media said 71 Turkish soldiers were killed in the 7-month operation.

While insisting Turkey and the United States shared a com­mitment to defeat ISIS, Tillerson said he had explored “a number of options and alternatives” with Turkish leaders for the operation against Raqqa.

Cavusoglu warned that US sup­port for the YPG had harmed re­lations. “It is not good or realistic to work with a terror group while fighting another terror group,” he said.

Turkey is frustrated at the US failure to extradite Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric and former Er­dogan ally Fethullah Gulen to face charges of masterminding a failed July coup. Ankara is also angry about the US arrests of Turkish- Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab and a Turkish banker accused of subverting US sanctions on Iran.

Through his Hizmet movement’s control of hundreds of schools across Turkey and the world, Gu­len placed followers in Turkey’s civil service, judiciary and military as it helped Erdogan’s party rise to power and dominance from 2002.

However, Hizmet split with Er­dogan in 2013 when prosecutors linked to Gulen launched corrup­tion investigations into relatives of government ministers, accus­ing them, among other things, of helping Iran avoid US sanctions. Erdogan fired the prosecutors and the cases were dropped.

Germany’s intelligence chief and the British parliament’s For­eign Affairs Committee have said they were not convinced that Gu­len was behind the coup attempt but Cavusoglu said Turkey had presented evidence to the United States and called on prosecutors there to “evaluate the documents meticulously”.

Ankara has grounds for opti­mism the Trump administration will seek an outcome favourable to Turkey. Former CIA director James Woolsey said that ousted US national security adviser Michael Flynn had been paid to lobby for Turkey while assisting the Trump campaign.

The Trump administration on March 11th fired US Prosecutor for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who was respon­sible for the arrest of Zarrab, the focus of the so-called gold-for-gas operation to skirt US sanctions on Iran. Erdogan, whose son-in-law has been implicated in the alleged conspiracy, has publicly defended Zarrab and accused Bharara of be­ing entertained by Gulen followers in the United States.

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former US attorney general Michael Mukasey, both staunch Trump supporters, have been hired as part of Zarrab’s defence team.

“We are expecting concrete steps,” Cavusoglu said, referring to Gulen’s extradition. “We need to take mutual steps to put rela­tions with the United States back on track.”


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