Tillerson Tries To Mend Relations In Turkey

Feb 16, 2018
Originally published on February 16, 2018 10:25 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrapped up his Middle East tour in Turkey this morning with more talks aimed at defusing tensions in northern Syria. But at a press conference, Tillerson sounded a cautious note about U.S.-Turkish relations.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

REX TILLERSON: We find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Tillerson arrived in Ankara Thursday evening and immediately plunged into a nearly three-and-a-half-hour closed meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu doing the translating. A State Department official described the talks as open and productive while Erdogan's office said the president was explicit in explaining Turkey's priorities in the region. Tillerson continued talks with Cavusoglu in the morning as a few dozen demonstrators protested outside. A Turkish official told reporters that Ankara is proposing that the Kurdish fighters Turkey is concerned about move to the eastern side of the Euphrates River and joint U.S. and Turkish patrols should secure the border area. Turkey has long complained about American support for YPG Syrian Kurdish fighters in the campaign against ISIS.

Ankara grew so frustrated with the U.S. arming and training of fighters Turkey sees as terrorists that it launched a military operation to clear YPG forces from territory along the border. Surveys show anti-American sentiment soaring and strong support in Turkey for the military offensive in northwestern Syria. Turkish officials bluntly warned American military forces in Syria to distance themselves from YPG units or risk getting caught up in the fighting, warning they might receive an Ottoman slap. U.S. military officers in Syria said if attacked they would respond, but did not say they planned to be moving anywhere. U.S. officials say they respect Turkey's security concerns but the military operation has hampered the anti-ISIS efforts in Syria. Tillerson's visit came at the end of a difficult five-country Mideast tour that included stops in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.