Turkey, U.S. Discuss Regional Security

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high-ranking officials while on a trip in the capital of Ankara. Tillerson and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim discussed the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State and Turkey’s demand that the United States extradite a Pennsylvania-based cleric (Hurriyet) it blames for an attempted coup. The State Department said that Tillerson emphasized the importance of Turkey as a NATO ally (RFE/RL) in enhancing “critical security” in the region. The visit comes as Turkey’s relations with Europe have strained ahead of a contentious April 16 referendum (NYT) to boost the powers of Erdogan’s office. Prior to Tillerson’s visit, Turkey announced an official end to its seven-month Operation Euphrates Shield (BBC) in northern Syria, where the United States and Turkey have been at odds over U.S. support for Kurdish forces (FT).


“In order to fight the Islamic State, [the United States] want[s] to support the Kurds—particularly the YPG, which is a Syrian Kurdish group. The Turks are against that because they are afraid their own population is going to call for rebellion and separatism. It becomes very complicated who is supporting whom. Because of that position, in order for the U.S. to stand down on its position on the Kurds, the Turks aligned with Americans to bomb Islamic extremists in northern Syria from Turkish soil (the Incirlik air base). That’s when we start to see the Islamists lash out at Erdogan. So in a way he created his own problem,” Elmira Bayrasli said in an interview with the World Policy Journal.

“Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, initially pursued a policy of ‘zero problems with neighbors,’ which sought to establish the country as the economic heart of an increasingly interconnected Middle East. But the developments of the Arab Spring led Turkey toward a more assertive foreign policy. The AKP decried the removal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup, threatened to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his campaign of mass slaughter against Syrian rebels, and railed against former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for mistreating Iraq’s Sunni population,” Nussaibah Younis writes for Foreign Affairs.

“Erdogan—who served as prime minister from 2003 until 2014, when he became head of state—has a more complicated relationship with Turkish citizens than tin-pot dictators like former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali or Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The AK Party has prevailed in ten consecutive elections because Erdogan has delivered. Turks are wealthier, healthier and more mobile than ever before. Erdogan has made it possible for Turks to explore their religious identities in ways they were never permitted under previous governments,” writes CFR’s Steven A. Cook in the Washington Post.