World Bulletin / News Desk
Addressing a longstanding thorn in Turkish-U.S. ties, Turkey’s foreign minister Thursday stated that Washington is coming to agreement with Turkey’s view that the terrorist PKK and its Syria wing, the YPG, are indistinguishable.
“The U.S. government and related soldiers, including the institutions, accept that there is no difference between the YPG and PKK," despite the previous American administration's support for the former, Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara, alongside visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
"The PKK is on the terrorist [group] list but we have seen it [the U.S.] cooperating with the YPG in Syria in the past and unfortunately we have seen that the previous [U.S.] administration has supported the YPG," Cavusoglu told a joint news conference after meeting Tillerson, paying his first visit to Turkey as the U.S.’ top diplomat.
Although the PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S., the Obama administration considered its Syrian offshoot the PYD -- and its armed wing the YPG -- "reliable partners" in the region in the fight against ISIL.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been Washington's principal partner in the anti-ISIL fight in northern Syria, vexing Ankara.
Cavusoglu said Turkish authorities have made it clear to U.S. officials that it makes no sense to cooperate with one terrorist group -- the PKK/YPG -- to fight another -- ISIL.
"Especially not in Syria. We have told them that it is a huge risk," he told reporters.
Cavusoglu added that he and Tillerson would readdress the issue during Friday's NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
However, when asked whether U.S. support for the YPG would continue, Tillerson -- a former oil industry executive with no background in diplomacy -- stuck to generalities, saying only that he discussed with Turkish officials how stability in Syria could be achieved and how the local people could return to their homes.
"Regarding the future of Raqqah [ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital], we want the control of these cities to be given back to local authorities," he said.
Asked whether the U.S. government would change its stance on the YPG/PKK, Tillerson again did not answer, saying only that discussions continued with all coalition members, including Turkey, over how to find solutions for Syria.
- Turkey seeks evidence of US call to coup suspect
On another issue, last summer’s defeated coup in Turkey, Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey wants to see details of a phone call the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul made to a top suspected coup-plotter just days after the July 15 coup attempt.
"We want to see some concrete evidence on the details of this issue," to confirm the U.S. account of the July 21 call to Adil Oksuz, he said.
After anonymous Turkish judicial officials spoke about the call Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy confirmed the call had been made, but said it had only been to tell Oksuz that his U.S. visa had been revoked, at Turkey’s request, to help Turkish officials apprehend him.
Led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen, the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) is accused of orchestrating the July 15 coup plot -- which left 249 people martyred and some 2,200 injured -- as well as a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and the judiciary.
A former assistant professor at Sakarya University in northwest Turkey, Oksuz was said to be FETO’s so-called “imam” to members within the Turkish Air Force. Oksuz was arrested at Akinci Airbase -- the headquarters of the plotters, later renamed Murted Airbase -- the day after the coup but was later released.
On the extradition of FETO's ringleader Fetullah Gulen, Cavusoglu said that Turkey has been sending the U.S. documents and evidence for Gulen's provisional arrest as well as extradition since last July.
"As our justice minister and Mr. Tillerson told us, the documents are [still being] examined in detail," he said. "We expect concrete steps, at least some measures at the administrative level."
Cavusoglu said he hoped Turkey-U.S. relations could be reinvigorated under the new Trump administration, as both countries have important roles to play in regional issues.
- Arrest of senior Turkish banking official
On the arrest earlier this week of a senior Turkish banking official in New York, Cavusoglu said that Turkey believes this was done for "political" reasons.
"We see that this process is political, including the arrest of [Iranian-Turkish businessman] Reza Zarrab” last year, he said.
When Halkbank Deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla was arrested on charges of violating American sanctions on Iran, this was done under an indictment filed by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has "close relations" to FETO, said Cavusoglu.
Cavusoglu also accused Bharara of supporting anti-Turkish campaigns on social media.
Atilla is set to face a hearing on April 10.
Bharara also ordered the arrest of Zarrab, also on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The attorney was fired on March 11 by U.S. President Donald Trump, in what was called a general housecleaning of Obama-appointed state prosecutors.
- ‘US wants to boost economic, military cooperation’
Tillerson also said that he and Cavusoglu discussed ways to strengthen cooperation to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq, to promote stability in the region, and to boost economic and military cooperation between the two countries.
He said that the U.S. wants to increase the $17.4 billion trade volume with Turkey in 2016 in the long term, especially in energy, health, and technology.
"We look forward to facing challenges together. The Trump administration will continue to stress our commitment to strengthen our deep-rooted friendship," Tillerson said.
Thanking Turkey for allowing its bases to be used by U.S. forces to counter ISIL in Syria and Iraq, Tillerson said operations targeting ISIL in Syria and Iraq have increased 25 percent in the last 18 months.
"The U.S. appreciates Turkey's efforts to find a peaceful solution" for Syria, he said. Tillerson added that they support Turkey's successful counter-terrorism operations in the region.
The diplomat also thanked Turkey for its aid and support by hosting nearly 3 million Syrian refugees.