Keep expectations low for Tillerson visit - expert

An expert on Kurdish issues has said that those looking for positive developments as a result of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Turkey this Thursday and Friday should not get their hopes up.

"Tillerson is not Kissinger" said Güneş Murat Tezcür, the Jalal Talabani Chair of Kurdish Political Studies at the University of Central Florida. “Secretary Tillerson is a weak secretary of state. This is not a secret,” Tezcür said during a conversation with AhvalTV.

“Even if Tillerson finds a way to make a deal with Turkey's Erdoğan, it is unclear if the Trump administration would act on it."

He said that "domestically, the Afrin operation has high support inside Turkey" in addition to dissent against the operation being criminalised. So, at least for now the operation is not creating issues inside Turkey.

"In these kinds of operations in Middle East, there don't seem to be many problems" for other countries either, Tezcür said, noting that Saudi Arabia's operation in Yemen has been going on for years without creating any problems among the Saudi people.

When it comes to international support for the operation, there is a mixed record, Tezcür said. Again, for now, despite some opposition from Egypt and Syria, this does not seem to be a big issue for Turkey. Overall, there is some reaction from Western public opinion, but this is still manageable.

Militarily, the Turkish army is a much stronger fighting force, but the insurgency has the advantage of the terrain. It has been almost a month since the operation launched, but Tezcür emphasised that the Turkish army had had limited territorial success.

Since 2014, the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have become the most important allies of the United States in Syria: in other words, the Americans' most important allies on the ground are seen as terrorists by Turkey. 

The optimistic perspective for bilateral relations, Tezcür said, would see some concessions over Manbij from the U.S. in return from some concessions from Turkey in terms of limiting its Afrin operation.

Regardless of any compromise, the YPG will still control one quarter of Syrian territory, he said. 

The YPG was an important ally against ISIS but would not be strong enough to roll back Iranian influence.

Should the United States require a strong ally against Iran in future, Tezcür speculated, its overtures to Turkey could resume.