Turkey has alternatives to Western allies, says FM

Turkey has alternatives to its traditional Western allies and may turn to them if Washington does not acquiesce to Ankara’s demands and withdraw its support to Syrian Kurdish forces near the Turkish border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said.

“(The United States) has preferred to collaborate with a terrorist organisation in Syria. That was a grave mistake, and we are trying to change their position.” Çavuşoğlu told guests at a pre-dawn “suhur” meal in the southern Turkish province of Antalya on Wednesday.

Çavuşoğlu was referring to the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Syrian-Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a terrorist organisation due to its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been pursuing Kurdish self-rule through armed struggle for over 30 years.

The YPG has been a key ally in the U.S.-led international coalition against the extremist jihadist Islamic State (ISIS), and Washington has resisted Turkish calls to fully withdraw its support for the group.

The U.S. support for the YPG has been a source of high tension between the two NATO allies, particularly since Turkey’s invasion of the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin, previously held by the YPG. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to extend the operation to nearby Manbij, an area controlled by YPG affiliates that also plays host to many of the 2,000 U.S. special forces stationed in Syria.

“Above all, the risk of losing such an important country and an ally like us is a weakness for the United States and all allies,” said the Turkish foreign minister, before stressing Turkey’s importance as NATO’s second largest military power.

 “Nobody wants to lose such an ally. And if one does, it will damage them, not us. We are not without options or alternatives, and we don’t need anyone else,” said Çavuşoğlu.

The timing of the Turkish foreign minister’s statements was meaningful, if somewhat puzzling: with Çavuşoğlu due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Jun. 4, the two countries’ diverging Syrian policies will be at the top of a lengthy agenda of issues to resolve.

However, other statements made by Çavuşoğlu on May 29 and 30 announced that an agreement had already been reached with the United States to secure the YPG’s withdrawal by the end of the summer – a claim denied by the U.S. State Department last Tuesday.

Besides the disagreement over the YPG in Syria, Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo are expected to discuss Turkey’s purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia against NATO’s wishes, as well as the imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor who Turkey accuses of collaborating with terrorist organisations. The U.S. congress has moved to bar weapons sales to Turkey in response to these issues.