Erdogan – Trump avoided discord about Kurds: More shared interests than disagreements

Fahwad Al-Khadoumi (nsnbc) : After meeting at the White House on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart President R. Tayyip Erdogan focused on the strength of U.S. – Turkish relations while sidestepping apparent discord about the role of the Syrian – Kurdish YPG in the fight against the Islamic State. That said, the apparent “discord” may indeed be beneficial for the U.S.A., for Turkey, as well as for NATO said nsnbc chief editor Christof Lehmann during a phone conversation Wednesday morning.

Erdogan_Trump_Washington D.C._USA_May 2017Addressing reporters both Trump and Erdogan described bilateral relations as strong. “We have had a great relationship,.. and we will make it even better” said Trump. Neither Trump not Erdogan publicly mentioned the United States’ decision last week to supply weapons including some heavy weapons to the Syrian – Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG and its all-female branch the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) are the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which seized the town of Tabqa and the Tabqa Dam from ISIS last week. The U.S.-backed SDF are preparing to march on the Islamic State’s (ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) de-facto capital Raqqa later this year. The YPG / YPJ are the armed wings of the Syrian – Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey designates the PYD, YPG, and YPJ as terrorist organizations on par with Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The PKK launched an armed insurgency against the Turkish State and military in 1984. Turkey claims – correctly – that the PKK and the YPG are close allies. Erdogan has previously called the decision to provide U.S. arms “contrary to our strategic relations to the U.S.” But there were no public signs of friction Tuesday, as Trump and Erdogan struck public poses suggesting full agreement on the need to capture the IS stronghold at Raqqa.”There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” Erdogan said.

Ahead of his visit, Erdogan had pledged he would try to persuade Trump to change his mind about arming the YPG. Erdogan also ordered airstrikes last month on sparsely-populated Kurdish areas along the Iraq-Syria frontier. ​Prior to Erdogan’s arrival at the White House, a violent altercation broke out between Erdogan supporters and a group of a few dozen people protesting the president outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Erdogan bodyguards were also involved.

Washington’s fire and emergency medical services department said nine people were hurt, including one person with serious injuries. The police department said it arrested two people. Similar clashes happened last year when Erdogan visited Washington for a nuclear security summit.

Too many shared interests, including the apparent “discord” about the PKK – PYD – YPG – YPJ nexus

Speaking over the phone Wednesday morning nsnbc international chief editor Christof Lehmann noted that the apparent discord over Syrian Kurds is real but that both the United States, Turkey as well as NATO benefit from the rhetoric and the exaggeration of disagreements.

Lehmann stressed that the PKK as well as the Syrian Kurds with close ties to the PKK (now the PYD – YPG – YPJ) have long been part of the Soviet, Russian, Syrian as well as in part Iranian strategy aimed to have a “stay behind” force or guerrilla that can operate in Turkey and Syria in the case of a conflict between Turkey and Syria, or between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and Turkey – and by extension between Russia and NATO.

“Turning the PYD – YPG – YPJ into a U.S. ally in the war against ISIS is really a strategic scoop for both the USA and NATO, and it is also a scoop for Turkey” said Lehmann. He added that the PKK and PYD have not turned their back on Syria or Russia, but that the USA and NATO gained a fair amount of leverage.

Asked how Turkey would benefit from this development Lehmann said “Turkey can use the PKK – PYD – YPG – YPJ nexus as a pretext to continue Turkey’s invasion of Syrian territories with Islamist ´rebels`. … In other words, Turkey can use the Kurds as a pretext to carve out a Turkish sphere of interest in Syria; A buffer to protect Turkey against the Kurds if you will – all under the guise of fighting ISIS which both Turkey and the USA helped unleash in the region”.

Asked why NATO would benefit from these dynamics Lehmann said “It is no secret that influential circles with links to core NATO members’ states governments have long planned to re-organize the Middle East; to carve out new countries from the territories of Syria, Iraq and Iran. We are likely to see the establishment of a Kurdish State in Iraq in the near future. Regardless whether Syrian Kurds will achieve independence or not it is clear that they will, at the very least, achieve a great degree of autonomy from the government in Damascus. This will of course weaken Syria or Damascus. Moreover, a Kurdish state in Iraq will likely also function as springboard for increased Kurdish militant activities in western Iran. … The question here is not whether or not one endorses these developments;  What is important for us as a newspaper is to be objective about these facts, among others, that all, Turkey, the USA and NATO benefit from the apparent “discord” about the Syrian Kurds.”

F/AK & CH/L – nsnbc 17.05.2017

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