Monday, 15 October, 2018

Tillerson breaks protocol by meeting Turkey's Erdogan without translator

Turkey's President and leader of ruling Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to address the party members in Istanbul Saturday Feb. 10 2018. Erdogan has announced that a Turkish military helicopter has been Tillerson breaks protocol by meeting Turkey's Erdogan without translator
Andrew Cummings | 16 February, 2018, 06:16

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Turkey on Thursday seeking to ease tensions with its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally that have reached fresh heights over Ankara's ongoing operation inside Syria.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the talks between Tillerson and Erdogan, only Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu, serving as translator, also was included in the meeting, which lasted more than three hours.

Turkey's operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to the litany of issues clouding the relationship between Washington and Ankara.

"We also told him that YPG elements should be removed from the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF]", he said.

Tillerson arrived in Turkey on Thursday for two days of what officials have said would likely be uncomfortable discussions between the allies, whose relations have frayed over a number of issues, particularly US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as terrorists by Turkey. Turkey's military campaign against Kurds in northern Syria has alarmed the US leaders who have watched as the fighting has sapped energy from the fight against remaining IS strongholds.

The Turkish president then threatened to deliver an "Ottoman slap" - a tactic used by Ottoman forces in the 17th century that, according to legend, could be instantly fatal - if the USA does not get out of the way.

The Turkish government views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long war against Ankara.

But for Washington, the YPG is an ally.

Tillerson, finishing a five-nation Middle East trip, said earlier in the day in Lebanon that USA and Turkey share common goals in Syria.

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During the meeting, the USA side expressed concerns that the Turkish army's operation could undermine the anti-ISIL fight across Syria.

And if Ankara expected any clarity from United States officials on the way forward in Syria, it would be "disappointed", said Sloat, now a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution.

But former State Department officials said the meeting strayed from normal protocol.

"It's complicated enough. Let's not make it more so".

But Syria is not the only cause of strained ties between Washington and Ankara.

Turkish officials alleged the staff members had ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of being responsible for a deadly failed coup in 2016.

There is still no U.S. ambassador to Turkey after the departure of John Bass a year ago, and it was only in December that the two sides ended a row following tit-for-tat suspensions of visa services.

And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens, as well as Turkish employees of USA missions, have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.

"I believe we are finding common ground and there are areas of uncommon ground where sometimes war just gives you bad alternatives to choose from", Mattis said.

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