The meeting on May 16 was the first time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had the opportunity to meet his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.
It should be noted that Turkey refused to retreat on its criticism over the U.S. decision to provide heavy weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and from its demands that the U.S. extradite the fugitive leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Still, both sides demonstrated a clear resolve to prevent differences from harming broader ties.
The operation to free Raqqa from Daesh occupation by using the PKK’s Syrian wing YPG is actually an Obama-era plan. European pressure on Washington, D.C. resulting from increased frequency of Daesh attacks across the continent, coupled with the behavior of the Pentagon’s bureaucracy still controlled Obama appointees, has forced Trump’s hand to accelerate the timetable to free Raqqa.
Until Trump appoints his own nominees to replace the Obama holdovers in Pentagon and create a policy on the Middle East that takes into account the region’s people, the present tension will not dissipate. The current impasse on the issue does not necessarily mean that things will remain as they are in northern Syria. The Trump administration needs to set clear limitations on the extent of the aid it is giving to the YPG.
What happened at the White House on Tuesday was two close allies honestly citing their differences, acknowledging the sincerity in each other while deliberating on how to further cooperate on common issues of interest.
On the issue of Raqqa, both sides briefed the other on what their reasoning and stance was. The YPG, a serious cause for concern for Turkey, Arabs, Turkmens and anti-PKK Kurds in Syria, is being armed by a global superpower. A terrorist group increasing its armed potential to such an extent is creating a huge threat for all other groups. As the U.S.’s controversial Raqqa plan proceeds, Turkey will not retreat from its own operational plans vis-à-vis the YPG.
During the talks, the American side was also made aware of the huge importance Turkey attaches to the arrest and extradition of Fetullah Gülen, the leader of FETÖ. Turkey was told to wait for the judicial process concerning the matter. American pastor Andrew Brunson, under arrest for links to FETÖ, was also raised and U.S. officials understood that they will need to wait for courts to process the case.
It is obvious that the Trump administration needs more time to develop a broader outlook toward the region, escaping the narrow terrorism perspective and acquiring the knowledge base to understand the intricacies of the Arab-Turkish-Kurdish equation.
The warm welcome accorded to senior Turkish officials visiting the White House and the frank and honest dialogue in the meetings provide some comfort that the future health of ties are on a sound footing. Still, both sides need to ensure not to take steps that significantly jeopardize relations. Close and reliable ties with Turkey are a definite prerequisite for any outside player that wants to be part of building the region’s future. Turkish and American officials who desire strong and healthy bilateral ties should take precautions against current problems from turning gangrenous by creating sound policies that directly benefit the region’s people.