Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during the Atlantic Council Summit in Istanbul on April 28. Photo: AA
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that his country is expecting to “open a fresh page” with the United States ahead of his planned visit to the White House next month, adding that their high-level conversation has intensified since the new administration have assumed office.
Speaking at Istanbul’s eighth Atlantic Council Summit on energy, Erdogan said that they cannot accept US “co-operation with a terror organization” as he made reference to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria.
He also suggested that the US and Turkey can back the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) to drive ISIS out of Raqqa where he claimed there are fewer than 5,000 ISIS militants left in the city.
The US-led Global Coalition against ISIS is providing air support, equipment and training to the YPG-led multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria in their progress toward ISIS-held Raqqa, the group's de-facto capital.
On Tuesday, the Turkish air force killed many YPG forces in airstrikes in Syria, and also the positions of a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliate group in the Yezidi town of Shingal northwest of Iraq’s Mosul.
The US has said that its forces were less than 10 kilometers away from the targeted areas that put “US soldiers at risk.”
The United States has since conveyed their “deep concern” to the Turkish side at a high-level, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters on Thursday.
Toner said that they “understand” the Turkish concerns over the YPG, adding that they “disagree.”
The PKK is a named terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU.
Turkey claims that the YPG and the PYD are extensions of the PKK and therefore should be considered terrorist organizations.
Following intensive talks with President Donald Trump’s administration, President Erdogan said that he is “getting the sign that Mr Trump will exhibit a more decisive stance than the previous administration in terms of combating terror, ending chemical and nuclear weapons and Syrian state terror."
He said he is to meet with Trump on May 16, when they will have bilateral discussions, adding that there are still “sensitive issues that we would like to take a desired stage, adding that Ankara is expecting “understanding” from the US administration over the threats Turkey faces.
“We can never accept their co-operation with a terror organisation, which is threatening our people's lives under the pretext of fighting against Daesh,” Erdogan said, using a different name for ISIS. “The fact that the US is acting together with YPG and PYD and giving them concrete support is damaging the spirit of alliance and partnership."
He said that Turkey [first] needs to drive the Kurdish-supported forces out of Manbij, followed by fighting ISIS in Raqqa.
The YPG announced in mid-November that they had withdrawn their forces from Manbij after enabling local forces, with support from the coalition, to protect the northern Syrian city, adding that the withdrawn units will join the US-backed Syrian SDF in the operation to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
The military operation to retake Raqqa from ISIS to oust the extremist group from its de facto capital was launched on November 6 on two fronts by an amalgam of fighters, including the YPG and its female counterpart, YPJ, under the SDF flag.
The SDF liberated Manbij in mid-August after a months-long campaign against ISIS.
The US had to deploy a small unit to Manbij in March to “deter” aggression against the city as the Turkish-backed FSA was advancing on to the city.
The Manbij Military Council (MMC) also had to broker a deal with the Russian forces to give some of the villages west of the city to Syrian-government forces, installing a buffer between then and the Turkish backed forces.
"We now need to clear Manbij from them,” Erdogan said,” Once we clear Manbij, the real centre is where? In Raqqa. It is thought that an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 Daesh terrorists are in Raqqa. Now Turkey, the Free Syrian Army, along with the coalition led by America, can clear these 2,500 to 5,000 terrorists. This is not difficult for us and we would succeed,” Erdogan claimed.
“I believe we can succeed and I will tell this to Mr Trump,” Erdogan concluded. “Come let's do this together and let's clear this area of terror organisations.”