Ankara said that the U.S. administration under Donald Trump has a clearer stance on the PKK, in comparison to the Obama administration, as Defense Minister Fikri Işık met his U.S. counterpart Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington on Thursday. Stressing that the Trump administration has a clearer stance toward the PKK than the former Obama administration, Işık said he conveyed Ankara's concerns regarding the U.S.'s support to the PKK's Syrian wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
"The new U.S. administration has taken a clearer stance especially toward the PKK," Işık asserted.
Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed his Turkish counterpart Fikri Işık at the Pentagon where they held a joint press conference that covered a broad range of security issues. "This relationship continues today, with United States and Turkish military forces working together to counter a wide range of threats to our common security," Mattis said.
Işık said the Raqqa operation was also discussed in the bilateral meeting. The defense minister added that conducting the operation with moderate forces rather than PKK-affiliated terrorists would be more important for the stability of the region.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said on Friday that despite the cease-fire violations still continuing in Syria, it is important to maintain the complete cease-fire in order to start talks on a political solution.
Commenting on the latest situation in Manbij, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said a small number of the People's Protection Units (YPG)members currently still remain in the city. Reminding that Arabs are the inhabitants of Manbij, Çavuşoğlu said the Kurdish population is around 2 percent while adding that at the moment only YPG members remain in the city.
Responding to a question regarding what Turkey's reaction would be if the U.S insists on continuing operations with the YPG and not including Turkey in the Raqqa operation, Çavuşoğlu said they have already told their U.S counterparts about their reaction without providing any details.
Reminding that the YPG is an offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization, Çavuşoğlu drew attention to the risks of cooperating with the YPG. "This kind of cooperation is too risky for Syria's future. It will not provide unity and integrity for Syria," Çavuşıoğlu said while stressing that the U.S should have a plan for the future of Syria and should not only focus on clearing Raqqa of Daesh militants. "We have to plan for the future of Syria all together, and not with terrorist organizations," he added.
Washington's recent Syria policy has relied heavily on support from the PYD's armed wing, the YPG. That has vexed Ankara, which designates both groups Syrian branches of the PKK terror group.
Despite the previous U.S. administration's denial of any direct links between the PKK and the YPG/PYD in Syria, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed the link in testimony before a Senate panel at the U.S. Congress last April.
Admitting the link between the PKK and PYD, Carter acknowledged that the PKK is a designated terror group by the U.S., Turkey and the EU, but denied the fact that Ankara was upset due to the U.S. air and equipment support given to the militant group's Syrian offshoot.
Turkey hosts nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, shouldering the largest load of the U.N.-backed global refugee response to the Syrian crisis. Mattis called Turkey an essential NATO ally and a vital member of the anti-Daesh coalition. He praised U.S.-Turkey cooperation on the use of the İncirlik Air Base, as well as Turkish military contributions to Operation Euphrates Shield that Ankara launched last August to clear terrorists from its border with Syria.
"And I commend Turkey for its fast response to ensure the victims of the Assad regime's hateful chloric gas attack received treatment in Turkish hospitals," Mattis added.
Işık expressed appreciation for the U.S. retaliatory response to the Syrian regime, which he said he hopes will "deter the regime from its barbaric attacks with or without chemical weapons."
The U.S. last Thursday fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base that American officials believe was used to carry out the chemical weapons attack.