US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that Washington faced difficult choices over Kurdish militia in northern Syria in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while downplaying differences with Turkey.
Speaking during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in Ankara on Thursday, Tillerson underlined that there was “no space” between Turkey and the US in their fight to defeat ISIL.
“What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options. Let me be very frank, it’s not easy, they are difficult choices that have to be made,” Tillerson said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials have been frustrated over US support for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria in the fight against ISIL.
Turkey considers the YPG and PYD in northern Syria to be linked to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and deems both groups terrorist organizations.
According to Reuters, President Erdoğan stressed the importance of working with “right and legitimate” actors in the fight against ISIL during his meeting with Tillerson at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
During the discussions, Tillerson underlined the importance of cooperation against terrorist groups in Syria and added that the status of President Bashar al-Assad would be decided by the Syrian people.
In late January Tillerson said during a Senate hearing after US President Donald Trump nominated him as secretary of state, that the US would re-commit” to supporting Syrian Kurds.
While describing Syrian Kurds as “the greatest allies” of the US, Tillerson said “defeating ISIS must be the foremost priority in the Middle East” for the US.
Tillerson also underlined that the US must re-engage with President Erdoğan and added that “in the absence of American leadership, [Erdoğan] got pretty nervous about his situation and he turned to who was next available.”
In the meantime, supporters of the Vatan Partisi (Patriotic Party) staged a demonstration outside the US Consulate General in Istanbul protesting the visit of the US Secretary of State Tillerson. They shouted slogans and held signs reading “Damn American imperialism, you can not separate our country.”