US, Turkey Still Not In Sync on Syria 11/21 06:26
ISTANBUL (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden on Friday will become the latest
in a parade of U.S. officials trying to push Turkey to step up its role in the
international coalition's fight against Islamic State extremists.
His visit comes after weeks of public bickering between the two NATO allies.
The Turkish president insists that if the U.S. wants his help, it must focus
less on fighting IS and more on toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad. Erdogan
wants the U.S.-led coalition to set up a security zone in northern Syria to
give moderate fighters a place to recoup and launch attacks.
The U.S. has no appetite to go to war against Assad and has said a no-fly
zone against Syria's air force is a no-go.
Turkey has pledged to train and equip moderate Syrian forces on its soil,
but no details have been announced by either side. U.S. and Turkish officials
have discussed the coalition's desire to use Turkey's Incirlik Air Base for
U.S.-led operations against IS militants, but Turkey has made no public
decision about Incirlik.
"From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping --- all
these steps have to be taken now," Erdogan said on Wednesday. Then he echoed
the same line he's been saying all along: "The coalition forces have not taken
those steps we asked them for. ... Turkey's position will be the same as it is
That's after a U.S. military delegation spent two days in Ankara last week
trying to hammer out details to implement Turkey's pledge to train and equip
moderate fighters. That's after top U.S. military officials visited Incirlik in
the past few weeks. And it follows two visits in two months by retired Marine
Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition.
Allen told the Turkish daily Milliyet on Wednesday in Ankara that fighting
extremists in Iraq was the "main effort" right now, but that's not the only
effort and "we'll be doing that in Syria as well."
"Eventually, of course, our policy intent for the U.S. is that there be a
political outcome in Syria that does not include Bashar Assad," said Allen, who
left Turkey for NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Now it's Biden's turn.
He plans a dinner meeting Friday with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. On
Saturday, Biden is to have an extended meeting with Erdogan, and plans to fly
back to Washington on Sunday.
The obvious compromise would be if Washington shifted its policy on Syria to
do more to force out Assad, and Turkey agreed to do more against IS, said James
Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq who is now at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy. Jeffrey is not holding his breath.
"Erdogan is a tough customer to reason with, but Turkey is already a major
source of stability and support in region and could be better if we play cards
right," Jeffrey said. "But Erdogan is, at this point, troublingly
Turkish officials say Turkey is an active partner in the coalition.
Besides pledging to train moderate Syrian forces, Turkey gave Kurdish
fighters from Iraq permission to traverse its soil on their way to help Kurdish
fighters in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani near Turkey's border. That was
an unprecedented step for Erdogan, but Turkey's military has been inactive
regarding the IS advance on the town.
Turkey has good relations with the Kurds in Iraq, but it views the Kurds in
Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker's Party. The party has waged a
30-year insurgency against the Turkish government and is designated as a
terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO. Asked if more Kurdish fighters from Iraq
would be moving through Turkey, a Turkish official said: "Yes, we might see
them again." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to
speak publicly about Turkey's policy on Syria.
Turkey also is hosting 1.6 million Syrian refugees. Washington acknowledges
that Ankara has worked to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria,
although it's still easy in some places to move across for a price. U.S.
officials also say Turkey has cracked down on oil smugglers. Analysts estimate
that IS earns up to $3 million a day in revenue from oil fields captured in
Iraq and Syria.
Still, the U.S. and Turkey are not in sync about Syria, and Biden's visit
follows weeks of misunderstandings and harsh rhetoric emanating from both
Locals in Istanbul have dubbed one flap the "apology-no apology," which
began over something Biden said in a speech at Harvard University.
Biden said that early in the Syrian conflict, Turkey assisted extremists
because they were seeking to depose Assad. Erdogan demanded an apology; the
White House said Biden called Erdogan to apologize, but Biden said he didn't.
There was more disagreement over whether Turkey had decided to let the U.S.
use Incirlik base for operations against extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Aggravating the tension was an incident last week in Istanbul where three
American sailors from the USS Ross were roughed up by anti-American