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US seeks to calm tensions with Turkey over Syria border force

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, second from right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, third from right, sit with other diplomats before a meeting on Syria at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, Feb.17, 2017. (AP)
ANKARA: Washington seems to be trying to ease tensions with Ankara following reports that the US-led coalition against Daesh would establish a 30,000-strong border security force with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
The US has no intention to build a border force in northern Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday.
“The US owes Turkey an explanation. We understand why they reacted the way they did,” he added.
The Pentagon said it is “keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey, our coalition partner and NATO ally. Turkey’s security concerns are legitimate.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with Tillerson on Tuesday in Canada. During the meeting, Tillerson reportedly told Cavusoglu that the US intention is to train local forces against Daesh remnants in Syria, and to ensure the return of displaced Syrians.
But Turkey’s prime minister on Thursday said the US would have to end the confusion over its Syria policy to improve relations with his country.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag on Wednesday said if Turkey’s demands are not met, it is determined to act in Afrin and other regions in Syria to protect its interests, “without considering what anyone can say.”
Murat Yesiltas, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based think tank SETA, said Tillerson’s remarks indicate that the US wants to placate Turkey.
But that will not stop Ankara from conducting a military operation in Afrin, an autonomous canton under Kurdish control along the Turkey-Syria border, Yesiltas added.
Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK), which convened on Wednesday, said Ankara will respond immediately to any security threats from Syria, and asked that all weapons given to the Kurds in Syria be collected without delay.
Yesiltas told Arab News: “Turkey will only soften its position against the US if it finally withdraws these weapons from the YPG.”
Turkey has deployed tanks and additional forces along its border near Afrin, and is negotiating with Russia and Iran about the use of their airspace for an imminent military operation. Turkey’s military and intelligence chiefs visited Russia on Thursday to discuss the operation.
On the same day, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad said any Turkish fighter jets that violate his country’s airspace will be destroyed.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Tillerson’s remarks aim to appease Turkey.
But they do not necessarily mean that the US has changed its plans regarding its support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG’s political wing, Unluhisarcikli added.
“Ankara interprets ongoing American support for the PYD as Turkey’s security concerns being a secondary issue for the US,” he told Arab News.
“In building a partnership with the PYD, the US is risking its partnership with Turkey, which isn’t the best strategic choice in the long run,” he added.
“Turkey is a long-term ally for the US, with which it can cooperate in multiple geographies in various ways,” Unluhisarcikli said.
“The PYD is at best a non-state actor, with no guarantee of even existing in the medium term, and with which the US can only cooperate in a very limited geography on one or two issues,” he added.
But “while Turkey is criticizing the US for supporting the PYD, Russia not only supports the party, it doesn’t even accept the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as a terrorist organization.”

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