Erdogan Welcomes 'Decisive' Trump Meeting Amid Tensions on Syria

Cameron Gross
May 17, 2017

In the first installment of this series, Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security; Robert Lowe, deputy director of the LSE Middle East Center; Gokhan Bacik, associate professor of International Relations at Ipek University, and Eva Savelsberg, president of the European Center for Kurdish Studies, share their viewpoints on how the USA decision will impact Kurdish factions fighting ISIS and relations with other powers now fighting the militant group.

If Erdogan fails to solve at least one of these two vital for Turkey's national security issues at the meeting with Trump, it will become another round of strengthening anti-Americanism in Turkish society.

In a surprise announcement, the Pentagon said Trump had authorized the arming of Kurdish fighters within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) "to ensure a clear victory over Daesh in Raqa".

The pushing ahead with arming Syrian Kurds after deciding the immediate objective of defeating Islamic State militants outweighs the potential damage to its partnership with Turkey. The fact is that Turkey considers both the Kurdish "Democratic Union Party" and its wings the Kurdish forces of People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Women's Protection Units (YPJ), the members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as terrorist organizations, which in turn feed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (RKK) operating in Turkey.

Turkey's concerns about the YPG were significant enough for Ankara to launch its own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield. The U.S., whose forces are sometimes embedded with the Kurds, has much to fear. One possibility to explore is whether YPG militia could persuade the PKK to call off its current campaign against Turkey and return to the negotiating table. Trump wants to see a quick and decisive military defeat of IS, a goal that makes the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) a precious US partner on the ground.

But Trump's strongest case-which he should make to Erdogan in their scheduled meeting next week in Washington-is that it's in Turkey's interest to accept this policy. The Turkish president is likely to push for Gulen's extradition to face charges of masterminding the July 15, 2016 failed coup in Turkey.

The Syrian Kurds will not be attending the next round of Geneva talks on Syrian settlement due to Turkey's anti-Kurdish sentiment, co-chairman of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Saleh Muslem told the Firat News Agency, adding that the group was in contact with the talks' United Nations mediators. News reports said Washington could provide Turkey with better intelligence sharing to boost Ankara's fight against the PKK.

Israel dismisses US concern over embassy move to Jerusalem
It was not the first time a member of the Trump administration referred to "Palestine", which the us does not recognize. At this stage, he will work out of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and will live in the ambassador's residence in Herzliya.

Turkey has pressed the USA to extradite Fethullah Gulen, to no avail. The letter borrows heavily from talking points the Turkish Presidency used previously. The U.S. also has pressed unsuccessfully for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, and other detained U.S. citizens.

Announcing the decision without waiting to meet with Erdogan is "humiliating" considering the sensitivity of the matter to Turkey, said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We feel these actions were within the law of armed conflict".

For now, it looks like the non-extradition of Gulen will remain an irritant in relations.

Improving relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies could be hard as experts don't expect Trump to change his mind on arming the YPG. First, enhanced and increased US assistance against the PKK, without any public expressions of concern about the tactics the Turkish military uses in civilian areas of southeastern Turkey. "We were hopeful", a senior Turkish official said afterward.

While Turkey and the US saw their close ties as critical to halting Soviet expansion during the Cold War, their military relations have been more strained since 2003 - when Turkey refused to let the USA use it as a base from which to invade Iraq.

Most recently, a CHP MP, Öztürk Yılmaz, criticized the governing party and Erdoğan for failing to stand up against the U.S. At the same time, the party is expected to warn the governing party to avoid putting Turkey in the position of North Korea by antagonizing the worldwide community.

Other reports by BadHub

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