Tillerson meets Erdogan to ease Turkey tensions


—Photo by AFP

ANKARA: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, seeking to ease tensions between the NATO allies that reached new heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria, MIA reports.

A prime task of President Donald Trump’s top diplomat is to allay Turkish anger over US policy in Syria, a dispute which has ignited the biggest crisis in bilateral ties since the 2003 Iraq war.

But Turkish presidential sources said Erdogan made no secret of Turkey’s concerns during the over three-hour meeting with the former chief of energy giant Exxon Mobil.

“In the talks, Turkey’s priorities and expectations on all these topics were clearly conveyed to the US secretary of state,” said a source, asking not to be named.

Tillerson will meet on Friday morning Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who was the only other official present at the meeting and acted as translator, US sources said.

A State Department official said Tillerson and Erdogan had a “productive and open” conversation about a “mutually beneficial way forward” for US-Turkey ties.

Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia in the Afrin region of Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to an increasingly rough bilateral relationship.

Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

Turkey’s operation against the YPG, which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen Turkish troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against Islamic State (IS) group militants.

Speaking in Beirut before his meeting with Erdogan, Tillerson denied Washington ever gave heavy weaponry to the YPG and thus could not gather up such arms, as desired by Ankara. “We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back,” Tillerson said.—APP