Tillerson arrives in Turkey

Cheryl Sanders
March 31, 2017

During his first trip to Turkey as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said the USA and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally were struggling with "difficult choices" on a strategy to defeat the Islamic State in Syria.

Though the USA and Turkey share a goal of defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has been concerned that Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield is more focused on preventing Syrian Kurds from forming an autonomous region in northern Syria, along Turkey's border, that could embolden Turkey's own Kurdish minority.

Some 70 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in the operation.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Thursday in a visit seen as a major test of his diplomatic skills.

Tillerson paid tribute to Turkey's hosting of 3 million refugees and said his talks focused on efforts to allow their return. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republicans who have long advocated for an increased USA military presence in Syria against Assad and his Russian allies.

"We are expecting concrete steps", he said.

"I think the... longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people", Tillerson said.

"The U.S. government and related soldiers, including the institutions, accept that there is no difference between the YPG [People's Protection Units] and PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]", Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Thursday in Ankara. Officially the United States insists any decision on returning him to Turkey remains a judicial - rather than a political - decision. -Turkish relations which have strained during Obama administration over USA cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish militia in Syria, which Ankara deems an offshoot of outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkey had been backing its own proxy fighters in Syria, drawing USA complaints about a lack of co-ordination with other coalition members.

Asked about how Turkey will be persuaded about cooperation with YPG, Tillerson said negotiation would be needed.

However, from the Turkish perspective, it is not a principled approach to fight against one terrorist organization by cooperating with another.

He said legal proceedings began after a "complaint by the translator" of Mr Brunson. "If we can not defeat ten or twenty thousand people, if we need another terror organization to do this, there is a problem over there", he noted. Cavusoglu repeatedly criticized the US with Tillerson standing next to him - over its support for the Kurds and its refusal to extradite a USA -based cleric Turkey says was responsible for the failed coup - while the top US diplomat emphasized areas of unity.

Under Euphrates Shield, Turkey took the border town of Jarablus on the Euphrates river, cleared Isis fighters from a roughly 100km (60 mile) stretch of the border, then moved south to al-Bab, an Isis stronghold where the Prime Minister said "everything is under control". The official said the United States ambassador was not giving Assad a free pass, and she called Assad a "war criminal" in an appearance Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

"To my understanding there must be some convincing words to Turkey on the issue... words definitely would not be sufficient", he added.

Tillerson also met with Yildirim on Thursday.

Gisclon cited the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey, in which citizens will vote on a set of 18 proposed constitutional amendments.

The Obama administration long complained about Turkey's inability to seal its frontier to prevent extremist recruits from reaching Middle East battlefields, and the frustration has carried over under President Donald Trump as the US looks to deal IS death blows in Iraq and Syria. Bharara is known for his remarks on social media against Turkey. "Certainly, as a friend of Russia from his days at Exxon Mobil, Secretary Tillerson is inclined to work with the Russians", she said.

Still, Trump, who spoke in glowing terms about Erdogan during the USA presidential campaign, has shown no sign of deviating from Obama-era policies that had so angered Turkey, including a reliance on the Syrian Kurdish force, known as the YPG.

Other reports by iNewsToday