Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his American counterpart Mike Pompeo are meeting in Washington to talk over the details of a deal on how to ease tensions between Ankara and Washington.
Discussed earlier by Turkish and U.S. delegations, the main issue is over the presence of PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) militants along Turkey's border region across northern Syria, with particular emphasis on the tiny city of Manbij.
Under American supervision and all-out support, YPG militants took the city from Daesh in mid-2016 and have been there ever since. The city has been under YPG occupation despite strong objections from Ankara. Turkey strongly was against the YPG militants taking over Manbij but, at the time, the Americans promised Ankara that the militants would withdraw from the city and move to the east of the Euphrates River.
Yet, the Americans did not keep their promise – a fact that the American media is hiding from the U.S. public opinion.
Instead of encouraging YPG militants to leave the city, the U.S. bolstered the YPG's defenses and sent its own forces to protect them, which became a challenge to Turkey.
Turkey ended the YPG's presence in the Syrian enclave of Afrin in April and took over the region with the help of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The country has now turned its attention to Manbij.
Turkey has declared the PKK-affiliated YPG militants are a security threat and thus they must leave not only Manbij but all areas bordering Turkey – a span from the east of the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border.
The Americans have been irked with the Turkish success in the Afrin operation and realize Ankara means business. So the two sides started talks on how to defuse an explosive situation. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sat for hours with former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the situation in northern Syria. This set in motion a new process of sorting out the Manbij mess and eventually normalizing ties between Ankara and Washington.
However that process got stuck when President Donald Trump fired Tillerson via Twitter. The process can now resume with Mike Pompeo in office.Yet, is Pompeo as eager as Çavuşoğlu to reach a deal and pull YPG militants out of Manbij? The New York Times, in its June 1 edition, quoted an American captain telling the YPG militants in Manbij "Don't let the news disturb you," referring to reports that American troops may withdraw. "It's all rumors."
The meeting between Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu, and especially the statements that will be released by the U.S. following the talks, will give a hint on what is really happening. Until now the Americans have been insisting there is no deal over Manbij.
It is clear that Çavuşoğlu is leaving office as foreign minister as he has been named a candidate for Parliament in the June 24 elections. He wants to depart with the success of Manbij tucked in his bag.
Yet, the past performance of the Americans on Manbij and how they still insist on supporting PKK-affiliated militants in Syria makes you wonder if utmost caution is needed on the matter.
The only thing that is obvious is the people of Manbij do not want the PKK-allied occupiers on their soil and that Turkey is set to clear off the PKK and its affiliates from northern Syria, especially in border areas.
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