Feb 20 2018

Turkey-U.S. tensions over Syria ease after Tillerson visit

Tensions between Turkey and the United States appear to have diminished following U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara last week, but relations between the two NATO allies are still rocky, journalist Amberin Zaman wrote on the news website Diken.

The United States and Turkey have been at odds over a range of issues, but ties took a decided turn for the worst as the Turkish military launched an offensive a month ago against the Syrian district of Afrin, controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia that makes up the backbone of forces backed by the United States in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).

Tillerson’s trip to Ankara came against a backdrop of rising anti-U.S. rhetoric from Turkish leaders and growing anti-Turkish sentiment in the U.S. congress, where Greek and Armenian lobbyists are pressing for Washington to implement sanctions against Turkey.

Tillerson made three proposals in his meeting with Erdoğan, Zaman said.

The first was to carry out joint U.S.-Turkish patrols in the Syrian of town of Manbij. Manbij is under the control of the YPG, a force Turkey sees as a terrorist group related to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

While there are no U.S. troops in Afrin, U.S. forces are present in Manbij, training and assisting the YPG. Threats by Turkish leaders to attack Manbij could lead to a direct confrontation between Turkish and U.S. forces.

Zaman said that according to a reliable U.S. source, the proposal for joint patrols of Manbij had been on table for some time, but Turkey had shown only lukewarm interest.

Tillerson’s second proposal was to create a buffer zone in the Syrian region of Afrin along the Turkish border, Zaman said. This proposal is essentially meaningless, according to Zaman’s sources, since Afrin lies in a region of Syria that falls within Russia’s sphere of influence.

The third proposal was that the United States would wind up its relations with the YPG as soon as the fight against the remnants of ISIS ends.

But it is unclear whether Tillerson provided specific dates of when this would be, Zaman said. Furthermore such a promise appears to contradict a speech outlining the United States’ Syria policy that Tillerson gave last month at Stanford University. In the speech, Tillerson said the United States would remain in Syria following the defeat of ISIS to curb growing Iranian influence.