The U.S. took an important step Tuesday but it was too late. Years after its declaring the PKK an international terrorist organization, the U.S. put a $12 million bounty on three senior PKK leaders: Murat Karayılan, Cemil Bayık and Duran Kalkan. After the decision, there appears to be a question in Ankara now: Will this decision help Washington repair its strained ties with Ankara or is it just a gesture to soften Turkey's stance on the U.S.' PKK-linked ally in Syria, the People's Protection Units (YPG)? After all, its presence east of the Euphrates is a topic of conflict between the two NATO allies.
Since the U.S. intentions are not clear, Ankara is approaching Washington's move with caution.
Clearly, Washington wants to make a clearer distinction between the YPG and the PKK in order to ease its cooperation with YPG groups in Syria. However, Turkey is right in strongly opposing this and calling it hypocrisy since the relations between the two organizations are more than organic – they fight with the same artillery but under different names.
Just go to the YPG/PYD-controlled areas in Syria or enter their headquarters, you will immediately see the posters of the three wanted PKK leaders hanging on the walls, as the YPG considers them their leaders as well.
In a nutshell, the U.S. strategy could have two sides: On the one hand, the Donald Trump administration may have taken action to improve its frozen relations with Turkey. The warm meeting in Paris between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump was a strong indication. The two phone calls last week between the two leaders can be evaluated in this context as well. On the other hand, Washington is still insisting on maintaining its YPG policy.
Despite the dilemma, bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington have begun to improve since the release of the U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and then with the two parties lifting reciprocal sanctions on each other. Soon after, the U.S. also declared that Turkey will receive a waiver from its new sanctions on Iran. In addition, there is another improvement for the two countries. As Erdoğan stated, his discussion with Trump, regarding the U.S. trial of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank, which is facing a U.S. fine over allegations of evading the Iranian sanctions, were positive.
To sum up, it can be said that Turkey-U.S. relations have been put back on track and the recent U.S. move against the PKK leaders proves it. However, Turkey is still cautious while monitoring the developments concerning the YPG. President Erdoğan keeps reiterating that there will be no change in the Turkish strategy against the YPG or in Syria.