U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
By Yara Bayoumy, Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey proposed on Friday staging a joint deployment with U.S. troops in Syria, as the two NATO allies sought to rescue a rapidly deteriorating strategic relationship that Washington acknowledged had reached a “crisis point”.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met President Tayyip Erdogan during a two-day visit that followed weeks of escalating anti-American rhetoric from the Turkish government.
Relations between Washington and its main Muslim ally in NATO have been strained to the breaking point by several issues, above all Turkey’s anger over U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey sees as terrorists.
Turkey launched an air and ground assault last month in Syria’s northwest Afrin region to sweep the YPG away from its southern border. The United States has armed, trained and aided YPG fighters with air support and special forces, as the main ground force in its campaign against Islamic State.
“We find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship,” Tillerson acknowledged at a news conference after meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday morning. He had met with Erdogan for a more than three-hour discussion on Thursday night.
“We’re going to act together from this point forward. We’re going to lock arms. We’re going to work through the issues that are causing difficulties for us and we’re going to resolve them.”
The United States has no troops on the ground in Afrin, where the Turkish offensive has so far taken place. But Turkey has proposed extending its campaign further east to the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, potentially leading to direct confrontation with U.S.-backed units.
In a proposal aimed at overcoming the allies’ stark differences over Syria, a Turkish official told Reuters that Turkey had proposed that Turkish and U.S. forces could deploy jointly in Manbij.
Such a deployment could take place only if YPG fighters first withdrew from Manbij to positions on the opposite bank of the nearby Euphrates river, the official said. That condition repeats a long-standing demand of Turkey, which says Washington broke a promise that the YPG would withdraw from Manbij once Islamic State fighters were defeated in the town.
Neither Tillerson nor Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, responded directly to a question about the Reuters report of a possible joint deployment to Manbij.
Categories: Americas, Asia, Syria, Turkey, United States
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