The Turkish military has successfully concluded its campaign in northern Syria, PM Binali Yildirim said on March 29, one day before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was scheduled to visit Ankara.
Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield military operation in August last year in coordination with the Free Syrian Army to clear its border with Syria of ISIS and to stop the advance of the Syrian Kurdish militia YGP. Ankara sees the YGP as a terrorist organisation because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The YPG, however, has served as a close ally of the US in its fight against the Jihadist ISIS, something which has irked Ankara. Turkey has requested that the Americans withdraw their cooperation with the Kurdish group. But the US is thought to be pushing to use the YPG, and exclude Turkey, from the attempt to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
Ankara is concerned that an autonomous Kurdish entity inside Syria will embolden the PKK and spark separatist sentiments among Turkey’s own Kurds.
Yildirim said he had not ruled out new military operations in Syria. “If Turkey’s security is threatened, new military operations will be carried out under a different name,” the PM said.
Anticipating the Tillerson visit to Turkey, the US Department of State said in a statement: “Tillerson will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials to discuss the way forward with our campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”
Tillerson will be the most senior US official to visit Turkey since the Trump administration took office in late January. Ankara hopes that it will have better ties with Washington under Donald Trump than it did under Barack Obama.
Turkey-US relations were strained during the Obama administration, especially after the failed coup attempt in July last year. Ankara blames the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for the botched putsch and has demanded his extradition. The Obama White House was slow response to respond to that demand.
The main item on Tillerson’s agenda is apparently the fight against ISIS, but Turkish officials want to also discuss some other urgent issues, such as the prospect of a Gulen extradition and the arrest of a Turkish banker in New York earlier this week.
An executive of state-owned Halkbank was detained at JFK Airport on March 28 on charges of conspiring to evade trade sanctions on Iran.
The detention would be discussed with Tillerson, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on March 29. “We will seek more information regarding the detention and convey our concerns to Tillerson,” Cavusoglu told state-broadcaster TRT.
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