The strong political leadership in Turkey and the United States, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump has created an opportunity for the two NATO ally countries to start on a clean slate following the strained relations that developed during the previous Obama administration.
As Turkey looks to open a new chapter with the new administration in Washington, Trump has a set of disagreements that he needs to deal with left by former U.S. President Barack Obama, although the two states have historically benefited from strong political and economic relations.
Perhaps the most intense disagreement between Ankara and Washington concerns the U.S.'s support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly led by the PKK terror organization's Syria offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). While the former administration in Washington argued that the SDF is the most effective "partner" of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition, Turkey identifies the PYD as a terrorist organization because of the organic links the group has with the PKK, and has declared numerous times that one terror group cannot be used to eliminate another terror group.
Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. The EU and the U.S., however, do not categorize the PYD and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) as such, even though Turkey strongly opposes any PKK-affiliated group south of its border, both in Iraq and Syria, saying it constitutes a national security threat to its borders.
Another issue waiting to be discussed between Ankara and Washington is the extradition of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader, Fetullah Gülen, who has been residing in the U.S. since 1999. The U.S. has been reluctant to arrest and extradite terror leader Gülen, despite an extradition treaty signed between the two countries.
Ankara has voiced a willingness to start with a blank slate with hopes that the Trump administration will not repeat the mistakes made by the Obama one in U.S.-Turkey relations, and expects Washington to extradite Gülen and stop cooperation with the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian offshoot the PYD/YPG.
The Trump administration has also voiced the need for the U.S. to re-establish relations with Turkey, a U.S. ally whose trust in the U.S. diminished during Obama's term in the White House.
Trump administration's Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson had said during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 11 that the U.S. needs to reassess its relations with Turkey, particularly on issues related to Syria and the Middle East in general.
"The first step we have to take is to re-engage with our traditional allies and friends in the region. We are back with our leadership and a plan. Russia, Turkey and Iran are dictating the terms in Syria, absent our participation," Tillerson had responded to a question on the U.S.'s declining leadership in the Middle East during the confirmation session.
"We have to re-engage with President Erdoğan in Turkey, this is a long-standing NATO ally. Due to the absence of the U.S. leadership, he got pretty nervous about the situation. He has turned to his next available ally, he has turned to Russia. To make it clear to him, this is not a sustainable ally. Your sustainable alliance is with the United States," Tillerson had added.
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