Strategic observation

Spotlight: Turkey takes tough stance against U.S. ahead of Tillerson's visit

2018-02-14 02:09:35 (Beijing Time)         English.news.cn

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ANKARA, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Turkey hardened its discourse against the United States ahead of a crucial visit by the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Ankara, which aims to restore bilateral ties between the NATO allies that deteriorated over their diverging interests in Syria.

"It is very clear that those who say 'we will respond aggressively if you hit us' have never experienced an Ottoman slap," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, addressing to his lawmakers at the parliament.

"We declare that we will destroy every terrorist we have seen starting from the ones standing with their side. Then they will understand that it is better for them not to stand with the terrorists which they rub their backs on," the president said, referring to U.S. support to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters in Syria.

In January, Turkey launched an operation in Afrin province of northern Syria dubbed "Operation Olive Branch" to sweep the YPG from its southern border.

Turkey would turn its attention to Manbij after Afrin, the Turkish government said, warning U.S. troops stationed there not to get in the way. But Washington said it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from the town.

"You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves," U.S. Lieutenant General Paul Funk said during a visit to Manbij.

Not only the U.S. generals showed muscles, but also a U.S. Department of Defense budget for 2019 included funds to train and equip local forces in Syria.

The Pentagon requested 300 million U.S. dollars for Syrian "train and equip activities" and 250 million dollars for border security requirements, a move which is against demands of Ankara to stop supporting and arming the local Kurdish militia.

President Erdogan said the Pentagon had allocated 550 million dollars to the YPG in 2019, with indication that it could increase up to 3 billion dollars.

A U.S. decision to continue financial support to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will affect Turkey's future decisions, Erdogan said.

"It will be better for them not to stand with the terrorists they support today. I am calling on the people of the United States, this money is coming out of the budget of the United States, it's coming out of people's pockets," he warned.

Turkish government will openly discuss these matters with Tillerson and "present all realities openly," Erdogan stated, stressing that the YPG poses threat to Turkey's national security across its border.

Ankara and Washington have long been at odds over their starkly diverging interests in Syria, but the increasing support of the latter to Syrian Kurdish militia, which the U.S. sees as the local partner not only for struggle against the Islamic State(IS) group, but also for its long term plans in the war-torn country, has pushed relations between two NATO allies to breaking point.

Last month, the U.S. announced that they will train and establish a border security army with the local fighters, Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly dominated by YPG. Ankara has been enraged by the statement as the Turkish government sees the YPG group as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party.

"We will discuss these issues during Tillerson's visit, and our ties are at a very critical stage," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday. "Either we will fix our ties, or they will completely be broken."

On Tuesday, Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey has lost its confidence to its NATO ally and asked for three demands to be met if Washington wants to mend fences with Ankara. He blamed inconsistency between actions of the State Department and the Pentagon.

The United States should stop giving arms to the YPG and should collect the given weapons, and the YPG fighters should retreat from the west of Euphrates River, he said.

As for the third condition, the foreign minister wanted Washington to take legal steps against Fetullah Gulen, a U.S. based Islamic cleric accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt in July 15, 2016.

U.S. President Donald Trump's national security advisor, H.R. McMaster met with Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Sunday in a bid to ease bilateral tensions. As part of U.S. attempt to mend fences with Turkey, Secretary of State Tillerson will meet Turkish leadership in Ankara on Feb. 15-16.

Washington has proposed Ankara a safe zone in the west of Euphrates to be established by Turkey, but asked them not to enter the Afrin city center, Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist of daily Hurriyet, wrote on Tuesday.

The United States, for its part, will evacuate Afrin city from the YPG, and the proposal also includes establishing a city council with local groups in Afrin, as they did in Manbij town, Selvi said.

But Ankara sees the U.S. proposal as a move to protect the YPG and to prevent Turkey's military operation in Afrin, he said.

"The U.S. needs to come up with persuasive proposals on Afrin and Manbij to be taken seriously by Ankara," Selvi said, referring to key meetings of Tillerson in Ankara this week.