Tillerson: Turkey-U.S. Ties Are On The Mend

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Turkey on Sunday. Photo Credit: Reuters

In a 2-day visit to Turkey, top American diplomat signaled recovery of relations with the NATO ally, which has been strained by disputes over a number of thorny issues, hinting possibility of an agreement between Ankara and Washington, D.C. over northern Syria where two countries have different priorities and agendas. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday that Turkey and the U.S. are putting the strained relationship on the mend, rebuilding the lost trust, without offering specifics.

“I think we’re beginning to rebuild some of that trust that we lost in one another: they lost our trust to a certain extent, we lost theirs,” Mr. Tillerson told staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul after his meetings with the Turkish authorities. 

“We are making some progress down in Syria, we’re hopeful that we can replicate that with Turkey on some areas in north part of Syria,” Bloomberg quoted the Secretary of State as saying. His address came after the U.S., Russia, and Jordan brokered a truce in Syria to halt the armed hostilities. 

His remarks point to a renewed optimism to overcome the enduring tension between Turkey and the U.S. over their incongruent approaches to the Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish force as a terrorist group, while Washington is heavily dependent on them to recapture Raqqa from the Islamic State. 

Mr. Tillerson met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday. It was his third meeting with the Turkish president on 3 different occasions. “And I think each meeting things are getting a little better in terms of the tone between us,” he said.

He said the relationship with Turkey is “extraordinarily important from a security standpoint to the future economic opportunities as well.” 

“And the important geography just by luck of mother nature that the citizens of Turkey occupy at this crossroads of the world,” he added when pointed to the geographical significance of the country.

NATO’s second largest power commands vital geopolitical importance due to its geographical location that connects Asia and Europe; Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East, while its two straits link the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean. 

“This is why we must put the relationship on the mend… and I think we are taking the first steps in that regard,” he concluded. 

After attending G20 summit in Hamburg, Mr. Tillerson visited Ukraine and Turkey. In a conference in Istanbul on Sunday, he accepted an award from the World Petroleum Council for his “outstanding contribution to the oil and gas industry.”

In an attempt to win hearts and minds of government supporters, Mr. Tillerson praised Turkish people for pushing back against coup attempt last summer. He voiced admiration over their courage. 

“Nearly a year ago, the Turkish people — brave men and women —  stood up against coup plotters and defended their democracy,” Mr. Tillerson said. 

“I take this moment to recognize their courage and honor the victims of the events of July 15, 2016.”

With lavishly praising remarks, Mr. Tillerson returned the gesture of comity he was shown during his visit. The Turkish government is preparing to hold massive rallies to mark the bloody coup attempt which rattled the entire nation, killing 249 people and wounding 2,000.

Ankara’s intention to hold events across Europe has already sparked a diplomatic standoff with Austria which barred Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci from holding a rally in Austria.

Speaking to ORF Radio, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said they do not want “the heated atmosphere that exists in Turkey after the coup attempt and the waves of purges that followed it to take place in Austria.”

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern raised similar concern and voiced his opposition against what he says Turkish efforts to exert political influence in Austria. He said they will not allow it.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the decision.

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