March 31 – 2017 – BY SCOTT LUCAS – eaworldview – Secretary of State Tillerson: “What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options.”
Amid a series of challenges in Syria’s conflict, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and high-level officials in Ankara on Thursday.
The discussions offered little public insight into the positions of either the US or Turkey, which announced on Wednesday that its offensive alongside rebels in northern Syria had ended — despite Erdoğan’s repeated declarations that it would advance on territory held by the Islamic State and by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Tillerson avoided the issue of the Turkish opposition to the SDF, led by the Kurdish militia YPG. Ankara considers the militia and its political leaders of the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD) to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
The US and Russia intervened earlier this month to prevent a Turkish-rebel advance on the SDF-held city of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province, putting in supplies and troops — in an implicit co-operation with the Assad regime as well as the PYD/YPG — for a buffer zone.
There are also signs that, after months of political dispute, the Pentagon has decided to back the SDF’s offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in Syria. Last weekend, after the US put in additional armor and special forces and stepped up airstrikes, the SDF took Tabqa Airbase, about 40 km (25 miles) from Raqqa. US strikes also damaged the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, raising fears of its collapse, as the SDF occupied the northern part of the 4.5-km (2.8-mile) dam.Tillerson insisted that there is “no space” between Turkey and the US in their determination to defeat Islamic State. He also spoke of “stabilization zones”, a term used by President Donald Trump without any definition in US policy or operations so far.“What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options. Let me be very frank, it’s not easy, they are difficult choices that have to be made,” Tillerson told a joint news conference alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Cavusoglu said Washington accepted there was no difference between the YPG militia and the PKK. Tillerson condemned recent PKK attacks in Turkey but went no further. He said only:
Those [the inclusion of PYD/YPG in the Raqqa operations] were the subjects of our conversations today. We have exchanged views on the best way to secure areas inside of Syria to allow the safe return of people to Syria and to set the stage for a long-term political solution. There was also little reference to the core political issues in the conflict, including the Assad regime and its future against the opposition and Syrian rebels, despite Tillerson’s indication of a major shift in US policy with the acceptance of President Assad in power: “[His future] will be decided by the Syrian people.”
The US has been sidelined since autumn 2016 as Turkey reconciled with Russia. The two countries, joined by Iran, brokered the resumption of indirect negotiations between the regime and opposition from late January, although these have made no progress. www.mesop.de