News Analysis: Turkish-U.S. tensions resurface over U.S. exit from Syria

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-09 21:35:23|Editor: xuxin
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Tensions between NATO allies U.S. and Turkey flared again after President Donald Trump's walking back of his commitment to withdraw rapidly troops from Syria and seek safety for a Kurdish militia, but experts think there are still rooms to cooperate.

"The pace and the way the U.S. exit can be modified ... but at the end, the withdrawal will happen. It has become inevitable," Oytun Orhan, a researcher from the Ankara-based think tank Center For Middle Eastern Studies, told Xinhua.

He is convinced that Trump will be "insistent" on a U.S. military exit from war-torn Syria as he would like to use it as a bargaining chip against Russia and Turkey.

Washington's backing of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its war against the Islamic State (IS) pushed U.S.-Turkish relations to a breaking point.

Ankara links the militia to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Trump's declaration of victory over IS and vow to quickly withdraw 2,000 U.S. forces based mainly with the YPG ushered in hopes of a breakthrough in strained ties with Ankara.

However, apparently conceding to pressure from his administration, Trump said afterwards that the U.S. exit would happen in a slower pace, which, according to specialists, could take many months or even years.

Trump sent on Tuesday his National Security Adviser John Bolton to Ankara for talks.

However, Bolton's mission failed as he was snubbed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over remarks that he held on the faith of the YPG after Washington's withdrawal from Syria.

Bolton held tense talks over Syria with Erdogan's aide Ibrahim Kalin and other Turkish senior officials but afterwards, the U.S. official canceled his press conference and headed for the airport.

During his speech in parliament, Erdogan vehemently criticized U.S. proposals to assure the safety of the U.S.-backed Kurdish group after the U.S. exit, describing it as "unacceptable."

Before arriving in the Turkish capital, Bolton seriously irritated the Turkish administration by stating that the U.S. pullout is conditional on defeating the IS as well as Turkish assurances on the security of the YPG.

Bolton's comments built on frictions that flared last Friday after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview that the U.S. wanted to ensure that "the Turks don't slaughter the Kurds" once its troops are out of the region.

Serkan Demirtas, political analyst and journalist, pointed out that Turkey is keen to differentiate civilian Kurds and YPG fighters militarily equipped by the U.S. Putting both in the same basket is unacceptable for Ankara.

"From the Turkish perspective, the U.S. should first clarify what they mean when they say 'Kurds'," he told Xinhua.

"If it's about civilian Kurds that have never been involved in terrorism, that would be fine for Turkey," he added.

"But if it's about the protection of the YPG terrorists even under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkey's approval on such a deal would either be a huge surprise or a drastic change in policy. Yet there is no sign that Turkey will soon change its policy, " according to Demirtas.

Turkey insists that its military actions are aimed at the YPG instead of the Kurdish people. Ankara rejected any role in restoring peace in the Syrian chessboard for the YPG and threatened to destroy this faction.

According to Demirtas, the initial waves of optimism regarding the U.S. withdrawal from Syria are fading away. "Turkey and the U.S. are going back to where it all started in Syria" to a point of friction.

Orhan seemed more optimistic on ways to diffuse the recent tensions. The U.S., he said, could address its ally's preoccupations regarding the Kurdish fighters by moving them away from the Turkish border.

"In this way, a Turkish military incursion would still happen but without a confrontation with Syrian Kurds," and thus without political stress with the U.S., he added.