Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today his visit to the United States next week could mark a “new beginning” in relations between the NATO allies which were shaken by a US decision to arm extremist Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria. Erdogan also said that he would be again demanding that the US hand over a cleric wanted on suspicion of orchestrating a botched coup attempt.
Speaking to journalists ahead of visits to China and the US, the Turkish president said that he would discuss the extradition of reclusive religious cleric Fethullah Gulen, the leader of the movement known as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation”, or FETO, in Turkey. Gulen currently resides in the US in the state of Pennsylvania.
Saying he would pursue the extradition of Gulen “to the end”, Erdogan was quoted as saying:
There are some documents and information we have prepared, which we will present to [Trump]. In my opinion, the United States of America should not be an incubation centre for FETO.
US arming YPG ‘contradicts relations’
Erdogan also repeated Ankara’s criticism of US President Donald Trump’s decision, saying it ran counter to the two countries’ strategic interests – but also sought to portray it as a relic of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.
“The United States is still going through a transition period. And we have to be more careful and sensitive,” he told a news conference at Ankara’s Esenboga airport before departing for China and the United States, where he will meet Trump for the first time since the president’s January inauguration.
“Right now there are certain moves in the United States coming from the past, such as the weapons assistance to the YPG,” Erdogan said. “These are developments that are in contradiction to our strategic relations with the United States and of course we don’t want this to happen.”
Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in southeastern Turkey for three decades, costing some 40,000 lives, most of them civilians.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.
Erdogan said he did not want to see “a terrorist organisation alongside the United States”, and that Turkey would continue military operations against Kurdish militia targets in Iraq and Syria.
But the tone of Erdogan’s comments, four days before he is due in Washington to meet Trump, contrasted with angry rebukes from Ankara earlier this week, when the foreign minister said every weapon sent to the YPG was a threat to Turkey and the defence minister described the move as a crisis.
Erdogan, who had a fraught relationship with former President Barack Obama, said his meeting with Trump at the White House next week would be decisive, saying:
I actually see this US visit as a new beginning in our ties.
Trump’s Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said after talks in London yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that he had no doubt the two countries could work through the tensions caused by the decision to arm the YPG.
A US official also told Reuters that the United States was looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK.
Asked about US pledges of support, Erdogan suggested he will seek further guarantees when he meets Trump.
“Among the information we have received, there is some that satisfies us and others that are not sufficient,” he said.