US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered no comment on Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and on the New York arrest of a top Turkish banker in a March 30 press conference held after his Ankara talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PM Binali Yildirim.
Tillerson said the discussions focused on the creation of stabilisation zones in the ongoing attempt at resolving the conflict in Syria and that a number of options on how to secure such areas were being explored, news agencies reported.
When asked whether the US would continue to support the YPG - a strategy which has infuriated Ankara - Tillerson declined to give a clear answer. “We had a good discussion on Syria… and our consultations will continue,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson - who also did not comment on Turkey’s demand that US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding last year’s failed coup, be extradited by Washington - also met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Turkey regards the YPG, one of the closest allies of American forces focused on Syria and the fight against ISIS, as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984.
A day before Tillerson’s visit, Ankara announced that it had successfully concluded its military campaign, codenamed Euphrates Shield, in Syria. Some 71 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in the military operation launched last August.
Ankara expects better cooperation with the new US administration on Syria, Cavusoglu said at the press conference held jointly with Tillerson. Such cooperation would be vital in giving fresh impetus to US-Turkish relations, he added.
Analysts say the Trump administration wants to deploy the YPG in the fight to push ISIS out of their last stronghold in Syria, Raqqa.
Turning to the demanded extradition of Gulen, Cavusoglu said Ankara is expecting the US to take concrete steps, including the temporary detention of the cleric.
Gulen is also mixed up in the US detention of Halkbank deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of conspiring with Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to help Iran evade sanctions, Cavusoglu claimed.
Echoing comments made by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag earlier on March 30, in which he described the case against Atilla as “completely political” and aimed at tarnishing Turkey and President Erdogan, Cavusoglu said: “This is a politically motivated case. The former US district attorney in charge of this case had close ties with Gulen. We are closely following developments.”