A top U.S. general said Thursday that it is a goal of Washington to maintain and improve ties with NATO ally Turkey, and long-term interests must be considered in relations between the two countries.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, responded to a question by lawmakers on the affect of U.S. partnership with the PKK terror group's Syrian affiliate, during the 2019 budget hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which provides civilian oversight to the military.Scaparrotti said that his approach to the matter is that long term interests must be taken into account, in addition to the immediate interests in bilateral relations.
The U.S.-Turkish ties have been severely strained over the U.S.'s military support to the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Turkey considers the PKK and the Syrian affiliate as one terrorist group, while the U.S. considers the YPG as a partner in Syria. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU, and Turkey.
Scaparrotti added that he has discussed the matter with CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, and underlined that Turkey was a strategic ally of NATO. The EUCOM general said that it was a long term goal for the U.S. to improve ties with an ally NATO member, like Turkey, and that within this framework, the U.S. ties with the YPG should be accounted as well. The U.S. general also commented on the S-400 defense missile system deal between Ankara and Moscow, saying that Washington is still trying to convince Turkey to step back from the deal.
"We're in close discussion with Turkey with respect to their air defense measures and systems they could deploy," Army Gen. Scaparrotti said.
"I don't think that's a finished deal yet," he added. In December, Turkey officially signed a $2.5 billion agreement with Russia for the S-400s — Russia's most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system.Aiming to address its growing defense needs, Turkey decided to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Turkey will be the first NATO member country to acquire the system. With the S-400s, Ankara aims to build Turkey's first long-range air and anti-missile defense system to guard against threats in the region.
Moreover, Turkey seeks to build its own missile defense systems as the deal also involves the transfer of technology and know-how. The S-400 system, which was introduced in 2007, is the new generation of Russian missile systems, and so far Russia has only sold them to China and India.
"Particularly in a country, for instance, like Turkey ... we don't have an ambassador now and we are in very sensitive discussions in order to continue to reinforce and strengthen our relationship with a key NATO ally. The ambassador's position is key," Scaparrotti was also quoted on Thursday by WashingtonExaminer, criticising Washington for not yet appointing an envoy to Ankara.‘Syria focus in Turkey, US joint
committee's first meeting'
The State Department spokesperson said Thursday the technical talks, between Turkish and American officials, as part of the recently established joint committees, have begun in the U.S. capital and many issues will be discussed, including Syria and Turkey's ongoing operation in Afrin.
"Today is the first day that the U.S. government and Turkish officials are meeting to discuss what was agreed to when Secretary [Rex] Tillerson met with his counterpart in Istanbul a couple weeks ago," Heather Nauert told reporters at a daily press briefing, referring to the first of the three technical committees of Turkey and the U.S., which focuses on Syria, formed to solve issues between the two countries.
During the U.S. Secretary of State's visit to Turkey on Feb. 15-16, three mechanisms were established between Ankar
a and Washington with a view to contributing to normalizing bilateral relations and overcoming issues related to Syria, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and Iraq. The first phase of the meetings was held on Thursday and Friday.
"This is an introductory meeting where we can start to hopefully work out some of these issues," Nauert added. "As you all know we have got a lot of issues to discuss. So hopefully, we can make some headway at that level today."When asked if Washington will pressure Ankara to stop the offensive in Afrin, Nauert said it would not be a surprise if it is one of the issues. She also noted that nearly 20 U.S. officials, led by Acting Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell, attended the meeting, and that the department plans to release a transcript of the meeting tomorrow. On the Turkish side, Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Sedat Önal has been presiding over the committee on Syria, Deputy Undersecretary Cihad Erginay on FETÖ and Fazlı Çorman, director general for South Asia at the Foreign Ministry, on Iraq.
According to Turkish officials, the primary agenda of the committee on Syria is Turkey's demand of clearing the PKK-affiliated YPG from Manbij that lies to the west of the Euphrates River in northern Syria.
The committee on FETÖ will discuss issues related to FETÖ and also focus on the subjects of Turkey's procurement of the S-400 missile system from Russia, migration and visa issues.