U.S. Defence Secretary Tries to Allay Concerns About Repercussions

By DION NISSENBAUM and AYLA ALBAYRAK CONNECT – Wall Street Journal – Sept. 8, 2014 7:06 p.m. ET – ANKARA, Turkey—The challenges faced by U.S. officials in building a global alliance to battle Islamic State extremists became clearer on Monday as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel worked to allay concerns of Turkish leaders worried about repercussions from the expanding confrontation.Mr. Hagel traveled to the Turkish capital to get a sense of how big a role the Muslim nation was willing to play in the expanding international coalition forming to defeat Islamic State fighters. Turkish leaders made it clear that there were likely to be limits to what they are willing to do.

“Each country has its own separate limitations, its own separate political dimensions,” Mr. Hagel said after meeting with the nation’s president, prime minister and defense minister. “We have to respect those, we do respect those.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also is working to line up support for the campaign against extremists, planning visits to Jordan and Saudi Arabia this week. President Barack Obama will detail U.S. strategy to combat Islamic State in a national address on Wednesday.

Turkey, by virtue of its geography, is near the epicenter of the fight against the group, which has declared its own state in parts of neighboring Syria and nearby Iraq.More than 800,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey. The country serves as what is frequently called a “jihadist highway” for foreign militants who regularly use Turkey’s porous border as a gateway to the front lines. But Turkey’s role is likely to be constrained by the fate of 49 Turkish diplomats, including a consulate-general, diplomatic staff and their family members, captured by Islamic State fighters in June, when the group, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, captured Mosul and stormed the city’s Turkish consulate.

“When ISIL is holding 49 Turkish citizens, that has got to be a high priority for leaders of Turkey,” Mr. Hagel said.Soon after the kidnapping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the Turkish prime minister and now president, warned against airstrikes against militant fighters, signaling the country wouldn’t allow the use of U.S. bases in Turkey for such a campaign.Turkish officials also were wary of an American overture to use bases in Turkey for an ultimately failed mission in July to rescue two American journalists, who later were killed by the militants.Turkey has increased security checks at its 560-mile border with Syria, detained and deported hundreds of suspected militants captured at the border and started to clamp down on fuel smuggling that Islamic State forces use to finance their operations.

Turkey also has a list of 6,000 suspected jihadists who intelligence agencies have urged leaders in Ankara to ban from entering the country, according to the Foreign Ministry. Because of the sensitivities, Mr. Hagel didn’t ask Turkish leaders on Monday for specific help in the coalition. “They are right in the middle of this and they have a lot of concern that are very tangible,” said a U.S. defense official traveling with Mr. Hagel.While Mr. Hagel was meeting Turkey’s leaders, the country’s foreign minister detailed his nation’s reluctance about Mr. Obama’s plans. Speaking to state-run Anadolu News Agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that “in principle,” Turkey was ready to help.

But he criticized America’s continuing effort to help the Iraqi military, which he called “95% sectarian.” He also expressed concern that weapons provided by the U.S.-led coalition to Kurdish forces in Iraq could end up in the hands of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. Mr. Hagel said the U.S. shares those concerns and is trying to establish safeguards to prevent them from taking place. Relations between the two countries have also tested recently by Turkey’s crackdown on protests in Istanbul over the last year.Mr. Hagel said the relationship has had “ups-and-downs,” but “has never broken.” Concern about the threat from Islamic State fighters, he said, “is one of those moments when there is a convergence of challenges and threats that are very clear.” Write to Dion Nissenbaum at and Ayla Albayrak at