By Fulya OZERKAN
Istanbul (AFP) May 10, 2017
Turkey on Wednesday slammed as unacceptable a US plan to arm Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists, but the militia applauded a "historic" move that would speed up the defeat of Islamic State (IS) extremists.
The issue risks further stoking tensions between Ankara and Washington less than a week before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to Washington to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump, in their first face-to-face encounter as heads of state.
The Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) is seen by Washington as the best ally against Islamic State group jihadists in Syria and the prime attacking force in any upcoming assault on their stronghold of Raqa.
But Ankara regards the YPG as a terror group and the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which since 1984 has waged an insurgency inside Turkey leaving tens of thousands dead.
The dispute poisoned ties between the two NATO allies under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said it was "out of the question" for Turkey to accept any direct or indirect help for the PKK.
"The United States and Turkey are two major partners in NATO. We don't believe America would choose a terror group over our strategic relations," he told reporters.
Speaking to A Haber television, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli slammed any supply of arms to the YPG "unacceptable".
"We expect that this mistake is to be rectified," he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu added that "every weapon that turns up in their hands is a threat directed toward Turkey".
- 'Not concerned at all' -
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis sought to allay Turkish concerns, saying at a news conference in Lithuania the US would work very closely with Turkey over security on its border with Syria.
"We have very open discussions about options and we will work together, we will work out any of the concerns," he said.
In a surprise announcement, the Pentagon had said Trump had authorised the arming of Kurdish fighters within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) "to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqa".
The YPG hailed the move as "historic" and said it would now play "a more influential, powerful, and decisive role" in fighting IS.
YPG spokesman Redur Xelil described the move as "somewhat late", but would still "provide a strong impetus" to all forces fighting IS.
The SDF, a US-backed group dominated by YPG but which also contains Arab elements, said that receiving US arms and military equipment would "hasten the defeat" of the jihadists.
It remains to be seen what shadow the issue will cast over the talks between Trump and Erdogan, which have been touted as chance to forge a new partnership between the two NATO allies.
While the government expressed predictable anger, the deputy head of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Ozturk Yilmaz said it should go even further by postponing Erdogan's visit to the US.
- 'Just different names' -
A high-level Turkish delegation including Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Turkey's spy chief Hakan Fidan had been in the US laying the groundwork for the meeting.
According to the New York Times, the delegation was informed of the decision to arm the YPG by Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Turkish media said the three met McMaster at the White House on Monday but gave no details over the content of the talks.
Both Washington and Brussels classify the PKK as a terror group but do not regard the YPG as such.
But Cavusoglu said the two were one and the same.
"YPG and PKK are both terror groups, there is no difference at all between them. They only have different names," he said.
Turkey has said it is keen to join the battle to recapture Raqa but on condition the offensive does not include the YPG
Last month, Erdogan said if Turkey and the United States joined forces, they could turn Raqa into a "graveyard" for jihadists.
But on April 27, Turkish warplanes struck YPG forces in Syria and also hit Kurdish forces in neighbouring Iraq in what Ankara described as "terrorist havens".
Meanwhile, Trump was to receive Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday to discuss a Russian plan to establish safe zones in Syria and help end the six-year conflict.
Russia -- the key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict but are working increasingly closely together in search of peace.
London (AFP) May 10, 2017
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that military chiefs wanted a few thousand more troops from the alliance to be deployed in Afghanistan to help combat Islamist insurgents. The troops were needed to train local forces, Stoltenberg told reporters following talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May at her Downing Street office in London. "We have received a request ... read more
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