Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Pentagon chief, Turkish PM meet after decision to arm Kurds

Pentagon chief, Turkish PM meet after decision to arm Kurds

Though observers anticipated the recent decision by the Trump administration to arm Syrian Kurds - perennial enemies of Ankara - would shake US-Turkish relations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have taken it lightly.

The choice of allies and partners on the ground and, in particular, the reliance on the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) has put the US-led anti-IS coalition in a direct clash with a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally-Turkey.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis voiced strong support for Turkey's fight against the PKK terror group after talks with Turkey's prime minister on Thursday.

Ties have also been strained by Turkey's demand for the extradition of USA -based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Turkey blames for last year's failed coup attempt.

US-backed fighters said on Friday they were preparing for a final assault on the Daesh group's Syrian bastion Raqqa, likely next month, after seizing a key city to the west.

The jubilant US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters say they expect to push on and capture Isis's de facto capital of Raqqa this summer, after receiving a range of heavy weapons from the U.S. military. Of concern is not only the PKK's growing presence in Sinjar, but also in and around Kirkuk-an area of high Turkish interest for both strategic reasons and due to kinship ties. "I want to consider all the information we have received so far (on USA arming Syrian Kurds) as hearsay..."

"I hope that during the meeting of our president next week with President Donald Trump this issue will be changed to a positive trajectory".

Erdogan said he did not want to see "a terrorist organisation alongside the United States", and that Turkey would continue military operations against Kurdish militia targets in Iraq and Syria. "In order to do this, the USA evidently prioritized Raqqa over Turkey's objections", Sam Heller, a Beirut-based analyst and fellow at the Century Foundation, told Syria Deeply.

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"Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organisations and they are no different apart from their names", said his foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The U.S. and other Western nations also view the PKK as a terrorist group.

"We will, of course, show these to the president during our visit on [May 16] and ask him what this is all about if we are partners against global terrorism", Erdogan said. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had their ups and downs, but they staged a very public reconciliation in August 2016, after almost a year of sanctions-marked estrangement following Turkey's shooting down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border.

Once the terrorists are defeated, the US can turn to longer-term issues such as patching up relations with Erdogan, as well as reaching some sort of peace deal involving protected, autonomous zones for USA -supported factions and, eventually, the end of President Bashar al-Assad's murderous reign. Moreover, the YPG threatened that unless the USA takes a clear stance and stops further Turkish airstrikes (EKurd, April 29), its fighters would withdraw from the Raqqa offensive. As much as Trump might like to take sole credit for a victory there, he knows he'll never get enough support to throw tens of thousands of troops into Syria, not even to crush ISIS.

This April 30, 2017, photo provided by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) shows a fighter from the SDF carrying weapons as he looks toward the northern town of Tabqa, Syria.

"The U.S. ruined Iraq".

Washington is trying to provide Turkey assurances.

Ankara had vehemently opposed the deal, since the USA weapons would provide support to the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.

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