US officials have said that Tillerson expects to have difficult conversations when he visits Turkey on Thursday and Friday, given that the NATO allies have starkly diverging interests in Syria.
Turkey has been enraged by US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Washington has backed the YPG in the fight against Daesh in Syria.
“Our ally’s decision to give financial support to the YPG ... will surely affect the decisions we will take,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.
His comments followed the release of the US Department of Defense’s 2019 budget, which includes funds to train and equip local forces in the fight against Daesh in Syria.
Turkey last month launched an incursion into Syria, which it calls “Operation Olive Branch” to sweep the YPG from its southern border. It has also threatened to press on to the Syrian town of Manbij, under the control of a YPG-led force, and has warned American troops stationed there not to get in the way.
Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij and two US commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message.
“It is very clear that those who say ‘we will respond aggressively if you hit us’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” Erdogan said in parliament.
That was an apparent reference to comments made by US Lt. Gen. Paul Funk during a visit to Manbij.