Turkey-U.S. accord on Islamic State sought amid tensions
Source: Bloomberg News , Author: Posted by BI-ME staff
Posted: Thu October 9, 2014 12:06 pm

INTERNATIONAL. Retired Marine General John Allen, the U.S. envoy to allies fighting Islamic State extremists, is due in Turkey today and tomorrow in an effort to resolve tensions over that nation’s role in the effort.

Allen will be negotiating at a difficult time when ties between the two nations are strained by President Barack Obama’s Syria policy, tense Turkish relations with Israel and mutual disappointment that the “model partnership” Obama sought with Turkey five years ago hasn’t materialized.

“The Turkey-U.S. relationship has entered a difficult period,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat now with Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based policy group.

Turkey considers Obama’s administration “overly cautious in this region, possibly to overcompensate for the excesses of the era” of former President George W. Bush, who launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ulgen said in an interview yesterday.

The immediate issue in U.S.-Turkey relations is how each country will respond to calls from human-rights organizations and Kurdish groups throughout Europe to save Kobani, a town near Syria’s border with Turkey, from an Islamic State offensive.

“You will see over the next hours, days, the fullness of that strategy evolving and decisions being made about the Turks and others as to exactly what role they’re going to play,” Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday in Washington.

The U.S. has rebuffed Turkey’s pleas to help create a buffer zone in Syria near the Turkish border, while Turkey’s prime minister has said it would take part in operations in Syria only if U.S. airstrikes are expanded beyond hitting Islamic State targets to a wider campaign to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“What the Turks are essentially doing now, in my view, is negotiating the best deal with the U.S. and with the Western powers,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said yesterday at a conference in Washington. “And it’s a game of brinkmanship because there are real lives at stake here, as we see in Kobani.”

Turkey sees both sides involved in the fight for Kobani enemies because Syrian Kurdish leaders who are fighting Islamic State are closely linked to the Kurdish PKK party, which both Turkey and the U.S. have designated a terrorist group.

The U.S. has conducted almost 20 airstrikes on Islamic State positions near Kobani over the past few days, according to statements by the Defense Department and the U.S. Central Command.

“Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against” Islamic State forces, Central Command said in a statement last night.

Turkey wants the U.S. to commit to a no-fly zone in which Turkey would take the lead, Ulgen said, to accommodate future refugee flows and serve as an area for training moderate opposition forces. Air defenses would be necessary to protect the area from the Syrian air force, Ulgen said.

Asked about the call for a U.S.-backed buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters in Washington yesterday that “it’s not something that’s under consideration now.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters yesterday that airpower alone won’t be enough to save Kobani.

“You do need competent ground forces to deny safe haven over the long haul” to the Islamic State extremists, he said. “In Syria right now we just don’t have a ground force we can work with.”

Despite talk of tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, Kirby said, “We’re not making demands on the Turks.”

Then, however, he said: “We want to see Turkey contribute. We want to see Turkey be helpful. We know they have information and capabilities” that the U.S. lacks “because they’re there.”

In the end, Turkey’s “absolutely going to be part of the solution,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet said yesterday at a conference in Washington. “It has to be -- it’s its border.”

© 2014 Bloomberg



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