MEHMET ÇELIK@mcel0 Daily Sabah
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking during the 33rd mukhtars (local officials) meeting in Ankara, Jan. 4.
President Erdoğan implicitly called on the upcoming U.S. administration to be transparent with Turkey, while reiterating Ankara’s willingness to repair ties with the U.S. which soured during the Obama administration particularly over disagreements on the fight against terror
Ankara has restated its hope to mend strained relations with Washington and open a new page with the United States, as U.S. President Barack Obama is about to step out of the White House and President-elect Donald Trump (R) awaits his inauguration ceremony next week. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Thursday implicitly criticized the outgoing Obama administration for the soured relations with Turkey, particularly on the U.S.’s support of the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and implicitly expressed hopes of better relations with the upcoming U.S. president, saying “We hope that everyone at least places their cards on the table.
“No one can say there is no relation between the PYD and PKK, because this relation has come to light with evidence in NATO-backed publications. Also, no one can declare that our only priority and aim is to combat Daesh, because the developing perspective about the al-Bab operation carried out by Turkey demonstrates that there is no reservations about this fight. Nobody can promote the FETÖ [Gülenist Terror Group] anymore. I think that whoever is in doubt regarding the role of this group in the military coup attack is probably convinced now following the assassination of the ambassador of the Russian Federation,” the president added.
Trump on Wednesday held his first press conference since July, during which he controversially refused to take questions from some journalists, accusing them of producing “fake news” aside from many other issues he touched upon, including Russia’s hacking into the U.S. presidential elections.
Around the same time on Wednesday, the Trump administration’s Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson was having his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he criticized the Obama administration, saying the U.S. needs to reassess its relations with Turkey, particularly on issues related to Syria and the Middle East in general.
“The first step we have to take is to re-engage with our traditional allies and friends in the region. We are back with our leadership and a plan. Russia, Turkey and Iran are dictating the terms in Syria, absent our participation,” Tillerson responded to a question on the U.S.’s declining leadership in the Middle East during the confirmation session.
“We have to re-engage with President Erdoğan in Turkey, this is a long-standing NATO ally. Due to the absence of the U.S. leadership, he got pretty nervous about the situation. He has turned to his next available ally, he has turned to Russia. To make it clear to him, this is not a sustainable ally. Your sustainable alliance is with the United States,” Tillerson added.
Tillerson’s comments came as the Turkey-U.S. alliance has suffered a period of tension, particularly due to disagreements in the areas where the fight against terror is central in the Middle East.
Perhaps the hottest disagreement between Ankara and Washington concerns the U.S.’s support of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly led by the PKK terror organization’s Syria offshoot, the PYD. While the Obama administration has long argued that the SDF is the most effective “partner” of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition, Turkey identifies the PYD as a terrorist organization because of the organic links the group has with the PKK, and has declared numerous times that one terror group cannot be used to eliminate another terror group.
Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. The EU and the U.S., however, do not categorize the PYD and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist organization, though Turkey strongly opposes any PKK-affiliated group south of its border, both in Iraq and Syria, saying it constitutes a national security threat to its borders.
Commenting on the expected U.S.-Turkey relations, Burhanettin Duran, director of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), said Trump is expected to eliminate the domestic and international baggage left behind by the Obama administration.
“In the international aspect, Trump will seek to re-establish relations with its historic allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Meanwhile, he will also mend ties with Russia, but relations with Iran will not be as good as during the Obama period. How this will affect the global equations and the U.S. role in the region is something we must wait to see. Moreover, how Trump will approach Russia and China in economic terms will be another determining factor,” Duran said.
Duran added that in terms of relations with Turkey, given the recent positive rhetoric, cooperation between Trump and Erdoğan is expected to emerge with a new page to open between the two historical allies.
“Trump will value Turkey’s anti-Daesh efforts in particular. This will also affect Trump’s approach to FETÖ and YPG issues in his ties with Turkey,” Duran said.
Turkish Presidential Spokesperson: “Has CENTCOM lost its senses?”
As the Obama administration lives its last days in office, U.S. CENTCOM controversially tweeted a message sent by the SDF, declaring that it has no relation with the PKK terror organization. CENTCOM’s action was harshly criticized by Turkey, as Ankara argues that the YPG terrorist group is the predominant force leading the SDF.
Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Thursday tweet: “Is this a joke or @CENTCOM has lost its senses? Do you believe anyone will buy this? The U.S. must stop trying to legitimize a terrorist group.”
“@CENTCOM this account must be hacked by PKK. I believe CENTCOM knows better than WP and won’t try to legitimize PKK,” Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kılıç, also tweeted.
‘Turkey looks for solidarity with U.S. in fight against terror’
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urged the upcoming Trump administration to open a new page in relations with Turkey, which he said should be based on solidarity, cohesion and trust.
“To restore confidence with partners, a good place for the United States to begin is with Turkey, which is a front-line state with regard to all the threats in question. It is sadly true that the Turkey-U.S. bilateral relationship is under severe strain,” Çavuşoğlu said in an article penned for the Washington Post.
“Here in Turkey, the disillusionment in our public opinion and politics across the board is palpable. Why has this happened? A major reason is the United States’ continued insistence in Syria of working with a terrorist organization – YPG/PYD – which, like its conjoined twin, the PKK, is known to conduct and support incessant and barbaric terrorist attacks inside Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu wrote in the article.
Meanwhile, U.S.’s National Tea Party movement Co-founder and Leader Michael Johns, who is known for being close to Trump, said in an interview with Turkish daily Akşam that the Trump administration presents a good opportunity for a new page in Turkey-U.S. relations.
“In issues related to the Middle East, with regards to Daesh, I am hoping that we will take steps with Erdoğan. It would be easy to have cohesion with him,” he added.