Tillerson to talk U.S.-Turkey "issues" in Ankara visit

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Ankara during a six day tour of the Middle East, the U.S. State Department has announced.

Tillerson is set to meet high Turkish officials to discuss “a range of bilateral and regional issues”, according to State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert’s statement on Thursday.

These are likely to include Operation Olive Branch, Turkey’s incursion into northwest Syria to fight the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mainly Kurdish group that is allied to the United States in its war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

This issue has severely heightened tensions between the two NATO allies, and raised the possibility of a military confrontation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to extend the operation to fight the YPG forces in the Manbij region, where U.S. troops are stationed, and demanded that the United States withdraw these forces.

Lt. General Paul E. Funk, one of the top U.S. officers active in the region, visited Manbij on Wednesday, where he confirmed U.S. support for its Kurdish allies and categorically rejected Turkey’s demands to pull troops out.

Tillerson is also likely to raise the issue of Turkey’s state of emergency, which has been ongoing since July 2016, when it was declared in the wake of a failed coup attempt.

Nauert informed the press at a State Department briefing on Tuesday of the United States’ concerns over the state of emergency, and the continuing crackdown on a vast range of Turkish opposition figures, including politicians, journalists and activists. Nauert also stated that if Tillerson were to visit Turkey, he would voice same human rights concerns during visit on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether Tillerson will voice these concern publicly.

Tillerson will also visit Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait during his tour, which is set for Feb. 11-16.

He will discuss the U.S.-Egyptian partnership and ways to strengthen it with senior officials in Cairo, according to the statement.

The stopover in Kuwait will see Tillerson attend the Ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, where the attendees will discuss “how the 74-member Global Coalition can ensure an enduring defeat for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

While in Kuwait, Tillerson is also set to visit a conference of the reconstruction of Iraq, where he will attend an event showcasing private sector opportunities for this reconstruction.