ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced confidence Friday that he and Donald Trump can open a “new page” in troubled Turkey-US ties when they meet next month, after discord over Syria and last year’s failed coup.
The May summit between Erdogan and Trump, their first face-to-face encounter as heads of state, is a chance to mend a relationship between two key NATO allies that was strained by a series of disputes under former president Barack Obama.
“I believe that we will open a new page with Mr Trump in Turkey-US relations,” Erdogan told the Atlantic Council Istanbul summit ahead of the May 16 meeting in the United States.
Erdogan made clear he expected a turnaround from Trump on the use of the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) as the chief US ally on the ground in Syria in the battle against Islamic State (IS) militants.
Turkey says the YPG is merely the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey, who have waged an insurgency since 1984 that has left tens of thousands dead.
“We expect our American friends to better understand the threats our country is facing and to show the solidarity that we need,” said Erdogan.
‘Working with terror group’
Of the US alliance with the YPG in Syria he said: “We can never accept cooperation with a terror organisation that is aiming at the lives of our people on the pretext of fighting against Daesh (IS).”
He said that “concrete support” given to the YPG by the United States in Syria was “harming the spirit of alliance and partnership”.
His comments came after Turkey angered the United States this week by bombing YPG positions in Syria. There have also been successive clashes between the Turkish army and the YPG over the border in the last days.
Erdogan warned the YPG that Turkey would fire back against any assault and thwart the creation of any Kurdish state in northern Syria.
“Are we going to leave them unanswered? We are doing what is necessary. We will take this kind of measure as long as the threats continue.”
Blasting “fools” who he said were trying to form a Kurdish state in norther Syria, he said: “We will not allow the formation of such a state.”
‘Late but welcome’
The spat over the YPG has so far held up any plan for Turkey and the United States to work together in Syria to prise the militant de-facto capital of Raqa out of the hands of IS.
Erdogan said 2,500-5,000 IS fighters were believed to still be in Raqa. A joint operation with the United States but excluding the YPG to take Raqa “would be nothing difficult for us. We can do this together,” said Erdogan.
But Erdogan praised Trump for showing a “more determined” approach than Obama against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad after the air strikes this month that followed a suspected chemical attack.
“It was late coming but something that we welcomed,” he said of the US air strikes. “The Assad regime has seen for the first time in six years that there will be no silence to the massacre of innocents.”
Along with the Syrian Kurds, the second main thorn in the side of Turkey-US relations is the future of Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blamed for the failed July 15 coup and resides in a secluded Pennsylvania compound.
Ankara has pressed for the extradition of Gulen — who denies the charges — to face trial and was disappointed by the slack progress under Obama.
Erdogan said Turkey was “seriously concerned that the terrorist chief can easily go about his business,” referring to Gulen.
He said that the arrest of Gulen by the United States was a “basic expectation” of Turkey.
James Jones, chairman of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council and former US national security advisor, said in Istanbul that he believed the relationship between the two men would be a good one.
“I am optimistic that the personal relationship on a presidential level is off to a good start. It bodes very well,” he said.