Turkish and American diplomats have ironed out a tentative plan that will push the People's Protection Units (YPG) militants out of the Syrian city of Manbij and send them to the east of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria.
The plan will be taken up when outgoing Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet in Washington on June 4. If an agreement can be reached, one of the many points of discord between Ankara and Washington will be solved.
Turkey is at odds with the U.S. not only because the so-called YPG militants affiliated with the PKK terrorist organization have occupied Manbij and are still holding onto the city despite repeated promises from Washington to Ankara that the YPG would withdraw.
Turkey is at odds with the U.S. because it continues to support and even strengthen YPG forces in northeastern Syria. The U.S. has provided arms and training to the YPG and because they have allowed the YPG to establish a PKK-orientated administration in Turkey's southeastern neighbor, Washington has also helped create a serious security risk.
So even if the Manbij problem is solved, the presence of the PKK-affiliated YPG militants in northeastern Syria, right on Turkey's doorstep, remains a source of serious discord.
The June 4 meeting between Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo is an opportunity for both sides to erase past misgivings and start on the path of reconciliation. Yet effort needs to be put in from both sides. Turkey has to see that the U.S. is sincere in its wish to appease Ankara and truly understands the concerns about a PKK presence through the YPG in Syria.
If the U.S. continues to insist that the YPG is not a PKK affiliate, Ankara's distrust in Washington's priorities will persist. Many Americans now see that the YPG is just an extension of the PKK terrorist organization in Syria being manipulated by the PKK leadership holed up in the Qandil Mountains in northeastern Iraq.
Besides Manbij, the YPG militant presence just across the border from the Euphrates river all the way up the Iraqi border remains a source of deep discomfort for Ankara. In the past, the PKK has shifted YPG militants into Turkey as sharpshooters and bombers while carrying out secessionist terrorist activity inside Turkey. It is also a fact that the PKK suicide bombers that hit Ankara and Istanbul several years ago were trained and armed in the Kobani township just across the Turkish border.
Mike Pompeo would be well advised to use his June 4 talks with Çavuşoğlu to set the stage to open a new chapter in Turkish-American relations. He is new as the secretary of state, yet has had ample experience on Turkey as he headed the CIA. So he is hardly a newcomer and is privy to all the details about the problems between Ankara and Washington.
He should also be aware that threatening Turkey by hindering the delivery of the F-35 fighters or by imposing sanctions because Ankara is purchasing S-400 air defense systems from Russia will hardly do the trick in setting Turkish-American relations on a path of reconciliation. This is the time for goodwill and sincerity. Manbij will be a real test but not the last test.
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