Washington & Ankara move to repair relations endangered by recent tension
Turkey and the United States have endorsed a road map over the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Syria’s Manbij province after months-long negotiations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said after Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met U.S State Secretary Mike Pompeo in Washington on June 4.
“They considered the recommendations of the Turkey-U.S. Working Group on Syria pertaining to the future of our bilateral cooperation in Syria on issues of mutual interest, to include taking steps to ensure the security and stability in Manbij. They endorsed a Road Map to this end and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation, reflecting their agreement to closely follow developments on the ground,” read joint statement issued following the meeting on June 4.
It did not unveil details of the road map but it’s believed that it stipulates the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij and the joint control of the city by Turkish and American troops. The road map includes a certain timeline that suggests the withdrawal of the YPG within 30 days after the beginning of the implementation of this road map.
Turkey has long been calling its NATO ally to let the YPG remove its troops from Manbij due to the city’s strategic location for Turkey’s security. The statement underlined the reaffirmation by Turkey and the U.S. to “remain committed to addressing their common concerns in a spirit of allied partnership.”
The two men exchanged views on bilateral and regional issues and reaffirmed their joint resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, it said. “Minister Çavuşoğlu and Secretary Pompeo also discussed Turkey-U.S. relations and agreed to hold further meetings of the working group mechanism to resolve current outstanding issues in the bilateral relationship. An initial session of the Working Group on Judicial and Other Issues took place immediately after the meeting of the Minister and the Secretary,” read the joint statement.
Minister Çavusoğlu and Secretary Pompeo exchanged views on bilateral and regional issues. They reaffirmed their joint resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. They considered the recommendations of the Turkey-U.S. Working Group on Syria pertaining to the future of the bilateral cooperation in Syria on issues of mutual interest, to include taking steps to ensure the security and stability in Manbij. They endorsed a Road Map to this end and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation, reflecting agreement to closely follow developments on the ground.
"I am pleased that we have achieved considerable progress on the YPG/PKK and we expect concrete results for our meeting with Secretary Pompeo this morning," Cavusoglu told a panel organized by the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), a Washington-based think tank. "It was very a successful and fruitful meeting," he said.
Turkey's top diplomat also expressed the hope that the U.S., as an ally, would stand with Turkey in opposing the presence of YPG/PKK terror group in the Syrian city of Manbij as well as cooperate in the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, the leader of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Turkey. FETO and the U.S.-based Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Roadmap for PKK/YPG withdrawal
Earlier, Cavusoglu said the implementation of a roadmap for withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the northern Syrian city of Manbij is expected to begin after his meeting with Pompeo. The roadmap on Manbij is expected to be announced some time following the meeting with Pompeo. Cavusoglu also said U.S. support for the PKK/PYD terrorist organization in Syria is one of the most key issues dividing Ankara and Washington.
This January Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, northern Syria to clear terrorist groups from the area. After liberating the city of Afrin, Ankara said it might also extend its operation further east to Manbij, unless the PYD/PKK terrorist group leaves the strategic city.
However, U.S. military support for the terrorist PYD/PKK in Manbij has strained ties between Ankara and Washington, and has led to fears of military clashes between the two NATO allies, since there are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in the city. The YPG/PKK and PYD/PKK are Syrian offshoots of the PKK terror group, which has taken some 40,000 lives in its 30-year terrorist campaign against the Turkish state, including those of women and children.
Brushing aside its terrorist status, the U.S. has called the PYD/PKK a “reliable ally” in the fight against Daesh. Later, Cavusoglu attended a program organized by Turkish Heritage Organization, where he described his meeting with Pompeo as "very fruitful."
"For our side, PKK/YPG and FETO are two major issues and we hope that our ally will stand with us on those issues," he said. "I am very glad that we have achieved a significant progress," Cavusoglu said. "I can say that it was a very fruitful and successful meeting."
In the meantime, Turkey signaled big campaign against PKK in Iraq to end with terrorism once and forever. The Turkish military has been giving strong signals for a few days that a big operation could be on the agenda against strongholds of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
Throughout last week there were a number of news reports about Turkish soldiers killed or wounded in clashes in Iraqi territory. Stories attributed to unnamed security sources also referred to Turkish commandos infiltrating into Iraq in order to cut the supply lines of the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains in the northeast (bordering both Turkey and Iran) with the northwest (bordering Syria).
On 2 June, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar visited troops based in the southeastern province of Hakkari, which borders both Iraq and Iran and is across from the Kandil Mountains, together with his top brass. Addressing commanders and family members of those killed or wounded in the anti-terror fight, Akar said the operations will "continue to neutralize the terrorists who pose a threat to the country," as in the cases of the Euphrates Shield Operation, the Olive Branch Operation and those being carried out in northern Iraq.
Turkish and Iraqi officials, meanwhile, have been making statements that the PKK threat to Turkey from Iraqi territory will no longer be tolerated. The PKK has been based in the Kandil Mountains since 1984, when it started organized acts of terror against Turkey. Its headquarters was moved from Damascus to Kandil in 1999, when Syria was forced to expel Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's founder, in October 1998. Ocalan was arrested after he was forced out of the Greek embassy in Kenya in February 1999 by Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT) with the help of the CIA.
There is no indication yet whether a large operation in Iraq will start before Eid al-Fitr on 15 June, or before early elections on 24 June, or later. But in the past operations, such as Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch started days after Akar's visited troops on those parts of the border with Syria.