U.S. may choose strategic partnership with Turkey over tactical ties to YPG – analysis

Despite the disagreement between Turkey and the United States over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian missile systems, ongoing efforts for a safe zone in Syria have shown that the U.S. administration has chosen strategic partnership with Turkey over its tactical partnership with Kurdish forces in Syria, journalist Murat Yetkin said in his blog on Saturday.

Turkey sees the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as extensions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

While the United States maintains that the PKK is a terrorist organisation, the YPG, which controls some enclaves in northern Syria along the Turkish border, forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

The Unites States and Turkey last week announced that they had agreed on the establishment of a safe zone in northeast Syria, after the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would launch a military offensive against the YPG to protect its national security.

The two allies rolled up their sleeves this week for the establishment of a joint operations centre in Turkey’s southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, despite ongoing disagreements over the size of the safe zone, who will control it, and how Turkey’s concerns over YPG will be handled.

Underlining that that the Turkish and U.S. militaries had important differences in opinion over the YPG, Yetkin wrote, “The YPG/PKK Turkey sees as the most important threat, is the United States’s business partner in Syria.”

But, despite those differences, two factors might ensure the successful implementation of the safe zone plan, Yetkin said.

Firstly, both the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump have thrown their weights over the subject, Yetkin said.

“In the strategic dimension, though there is the S-400/F-35 crisis, the U.S. system has decided to put more weight on the continuation of its strategic partnership with Turkey instead of tactical partnership with the PKK in Syria,” Yetkin said.

Trump last month halted the delivery of 100 F-35 stealth fighters to Turkey, after Ankara started receiving shipments of Russian S-400 missile defence systems. The Pentagon also suspended Turkey’s participation to the F-35 programme, over concerns that S-400s might open the way for a Russian subterfuge on F-35 jets.

Erdoğan said repeated times that Turkey also considered strengthening military corporation with Russia by joint production of S-500 missile systems, while Turkish daily Yeni Şafak reported last week that the country’s defence officials have been considering to purchase Russian Su-35 jets after the Pentagon’s decision.

Turkey and Russia have also been cooperating in Syria and have agreed last year on a deal over Idlib, the last major rebel held enclave in the country.

“After all, for the Unites States the PKK’s return to its old Syria-Russia alliance is not as important as strong cooperation between Russia and NATO ally Turkey,” Yetkin concluded.