US Secretary of State attempts to mend ties with Ankara

World Today

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to mend ties with Ankara during a two-day visit to Turkey.

In talks with the Turkish President and Foreign Minister, Tillerson emphasized Ankara was a key U.S. ally and that the two countries need to work together to normalize relations.

CGTN’s Michal Bardavid reports.
Follow Michal Bardavid on Twitter @michal_bardavid

There were high expectations regarding U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara, as relations between Turkey and the U.S. have deteriorated over the last few months.

He was welcomed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday and held meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday.

There are several issues of conflict, the most critical being the U.S. arming of the Syrian Kurdish group People’s Protection Unit (or YPG) in Syria. The YPG is perceived as a terrorist organization by Turkey, which recently launched an operation to clear Afrin province in Syria of the YPG to secure the Turkish border.

However, the same group is a key ally of the U.S. in the fight against ISIL.

Both Cavusoglu and Tillerson emphasized that Turkey-U.S. relations were extremely significant and that both parties were eager to take steps to mend ties.

One of the main results of Secretary Tillerson’s visit was the decision to establish mechanisms to normalize relations between the two allies, including the creation of joint working groups. They are expected to meet for the first time in mid-March.

“Our two countries follow the same objectives in Syria, the defeat of ISIS/Daesh, secure and stable zones and independent and unified Syria,” Tillerson said.

“We recognize the legitimate right of Turkey to secure its borders. We take it seriously when our NATO ally Turkey says it has security concerns. As to Afrin, we call upon Turkey to show restraint in its operation, to minimise the causalities to civilians and avoid actions that would escalate tensions in that area.”

Though Tillerson acknowledged Turkey’s security concerns, Cavusoglu stressed Ankara expected more than words.

“There are promises not kept, things we could not solve,” he said. “Therefore we discussed how can we take steps that are result-oriented, what can we do together so that the issues we discussed could be implemented.”

In regard to unkept promises, Cavusoglu referred to Turkey’s request that the YPG withdraw to the east of the Euphrates River. He stated that the Obama administration had vowed this would happen, but did not follow through on their promise.

Tillerson also emphasized Washington’s concerns regarding the detentions of U.S. employees in Turkey and called for the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. Cavusoglu reiterated Turkey’s request for the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes is behind the failed coup of 2016. Gulen remains in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Though the two leaders revealed few specifics of how they propose to mend ties, the willingness and intention to do so was clearly expressed. It will be critical to see what kind of steps the two allies take – especially in Syria – in the days leading up to their planned “working group” meeting in March.